Widespread Panic, Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, TN- 10/24
With the announcement of Widespread Panic's looming hiatus, I was quite excited to learn that they'd be making a stop in Memphis. To add to the anticipation, many other bands (Derek Trucks Band, the Disco Biscuits, and Widespread Panic guitarist George McConnell's former band, the Kudzu Kings) were slated to play after-Panic parties in Memphis that night. For the days (weeks) leading up to Friday night's concert at the Mid-South Coliseum, I ran through scenario after scenario in my headif guests showed up, what would they play? At any rate, knowing that this would be the last show in Memphis until at least 2005, the energy was high.
First thing I must note is that the show was general admission. Not too many venues these days will just open up the floor and let fans come on in a first-come, first-serve style, which I thought was very cool. In a day and age where if you're not in the first group in mail-order ticketing, or first in line when Ticketmaster opens up sales, you have no chance of getting up close. This gave everyone a chance to get a good spot to stand on the floor if you wanted, or a great seat in the front row if that was more your speed. The opening act of the evening was the Kenny Brown Band. They're a two-piece band, with Kenny Brown on lead guitar/vocals, and a drummer. Generally, I'm not a big fan of opening bands when going to see a group like Widespread Panic. Perhaps it's the fact that I've recently moved within blocks of the Mississippi River, but I've been digging down-south blues lately, and Kenny Brown, hailing from Mississippi, vibrates with it. He reminded me a lot of the North Mississippi Allstars, even playing a tune or two that they cover. He played for 30-45 minutes, and set the stage. I enjoyed his set, and would definitely check him out again.
The lights soon went down again and the band came on, opening with Dave Schools' pounding bass on "Bowlegged Woman." Since George McConnell took over on lead guitar last year, I've been fortunate to catch Widespread Panic a few times, and I have to say that every time I walk away more impressed. They seem to have hit stride and really gelled as a band; John Bell's vocals are in top form, and George has really found his place on guitar. His solos have gotten more intense and technically on point with each show. "Imitation Leather Shoes" and "Greta" followed, and then the first extended jam of the night, on a nice "Driving Song > North > Driving Song." After "Gradle" the first set smoked to a close with "Thought Sausage" and "Henry Parsons Died."
Again, the lights went up after the first set, and one of the guitar techs brought an extra amp on stage between George and JB. I immediately looked over at my wife, knowing that what I had been hoping for was imminent. As a HUGE Allman Brothers fan and knowing that this was the last time I'll catch Panic before they take their break, I cannot think of a better way to spend my last evening with them than with Derek Trucks as a guest. Sure enough, as the guitar tech was setting up the amp, I see that long blonde pony tail and Gibson SG on stage, as Derek tuned up briefly before leaving. The second set opened with a great version of "Space Wrangler," and then the only song of the night off of their new disc Ball followed, "Papa Johnny Road." "Ribs and Whiskey" was nextafter not having played this tune in about seven years, this one has really been dusted off and put into heavy rotation in 2003. "Doreatha" followed, giving JB's voice a break as George took vocals on this Beanland song. Having actually been a fan of Beanland before I was of Panic, this was a nice treat [Side noteif anyone out there hasn't heard the first Beanland disc, check it out]
Then, the inevitableJB introduced Derek Trucks, along with his drummer Yonrico Scott, who squeezed in with Sunny on percussion. The first notes of "Stop-Go" rang out, and then Derek totally took over. His slide guitar is something to marvel at. They gave him a brief solo on the intro, and then JB took over on vocals before giving way to Derek again. Now, I can be overly critical of Widespread Panic at times; in my opinion, they're all very good at their trade, but they're at their best as a collective band, not as individuals. As a sum of the parts, they can flow with the best, though, and adding a great guitarist like Derek Trucks creates something exquisite. This is precisely what happened during "Stop-Go." which segued into a brief "Drumz," with the band still standing on stage. Yonrico added another dimension, and while I often get a bit antsy at times during the drum solo, it was a good little number, perhaps because of its brevity. "Drumz" segued into "Arleen," and the crowd went crazy. Derek soloed extensively on this also, playing both with slide and without, showing his versatility. He sat in for one more, "Hope in a Hopeless World," before leaving to catch his own gig across town. The second set closed up with fantastic versions of "Postcard" and "Fishwater," with another brief drum solo from Sunny sandwiched somewhere in between. The encore was comrpised of decent, but not spectacular versions of "One Arm Steve" and "Sometimes." To be fair, though, by the time the band left for the encore break, I felt couldn't really have asked for any more from a concert.
When I walked out of Mid-South Coliseum, knowing that this would be the last show I would be able to catch before the hiatus, I was satisfied. I know that the time off will be good for the creative juice of the band, and after all they've been through over the past year and a half, it's a much deserved break. To quote the band and "Driving Song," which they broke out in the first set, Widespread Panic has "blown my thoughts to what's to come," because I know that we can all expect great things when they get back on the road after they get some rest in 2004.