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Published: 2003/10/28
by Dan Cohen

Widespread Panic, Macon Centreplex, Macon, GA- 10/18

Having been at the show the Saturday before in New Orleans (where Jerry
Joseph sat in), I felt it would be a monumental task for Widespread Panic to
equal or better the energy and overall vibe of that night a week later in
Macon, Georgia. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed as if
this really could be a special evening. From my perspective it seems as if the band
has really been delivering at its Saturday shows, the best night for folks who
work during the week to travel- thus, larger crowds and the size and
energy of the crowd can have a whole lot to do with the overall energy and
vibe coming from the band. Plus, Panic loves the Southeast, and they certainly
feel at home in Georgia. So here we were, band and fans on a Saturday night in
Georgia for the last time for a while.

My companion for the evening's festivities was the same person it has
been for exactly one year now, my lovely girlfriend Shannon (we met and saw
Umphrey's McGee- Zydeco, Birmingham- on 10/17/02; one hell of a first date!).
We left Montgomery, where we live, for the Panic show in Macon at 1:30.
Losing an hour crossing time zones, we arrived at the lot around 5:45. The
scene was already very lively, the lots were buzzing with anticipation. Shannon
and I headed into the Macon Centerplex at 7:10 for a scheduled
start time of 7:30. We found seats we liked (Dave) Schools' side (right)
about fifteen rows up.

The lights went down and the band took the stage around 7:45-8:00.
They came right out with a stompin' "Flat Foot Flewzy." A very fitting tune
to set the pace for the evening: "singing flewzy woozy boogie on a Saturday night."
The band then kept the early energy up with "Wondering." Honestly, I didn't feel
like this "Wondering" quite made it to where I've heard this song go the last few
times I've seen them play it with George (McConnell). I love the solos I've heard
George pull off during this tune. But on this night, it just didn't get there. In fact, the band
really didn't seem to tap in and connect until a little later in the set.
After wrapping up "Wondering," the band moved to the dark side for the
second consecutive Saturday in which "Henry Parsons Died," a choice which proved
fitting and well placed. Then George, JB, and Dave swapped out their
electric axes for acoustic instruments for a mellow and fluid duo of tunes: "Fishing"
and "Trouble." Before plugging back in with their electric axes, the band built the energy
back up with "Space Wrangler." Having heard them play an electric version this the
previous Saturday before in New Orleans, it was nice and refreshing to hear an acoustic rendition of this classic. It didn't have the energy of a week earlier, but it
was acoustic and hit the spot perfectly as a momentum builder. Continuing
the climb to what would lie ahead, the band delivered the new fireball, "Sparks Fly." This three minute burst of energy from their latest studio album, Ball, is still
young and rough, but nevertheless, served its purpose as a catapult.

It was here that Panic really seem to tap in and connect, as the band dived into some "Dirty
Business." This tune, written by John Dawson of The New Riders of the
Purple Sage, seemed to be a defining theme of the evening as JB smirked,
"dirty business down on Coal Creek." The band journeyed into some extended
and intense jamming during this tune, and this is where they really took
off. The band closed out the set with a high energy version of Little Feat's "Down on the
Farm," and a rollicking fun JoJo (Herman) tune, "Daisy Mae." I had never
heard the last four songs of the set played live before, and was very happy
to hear them. "Sparks Fly" and "Daisy Mae" are pretty new originals, and
"Dirty Business" and "Down on the Farm" are fairly rare cover tunes.

During set break I kept telling Shannon that since Oteil Burbridge was in town, playing a post-Panic I had a feling that he would get up there and jam with the boys… But first, after a 30-45 minute set break, Panic came back out on fire with an out of this world "Travelin' Man -> Jam -> Diner." Fierce! It's moving to hear Panic play the last song written by Mikey (Houser) in tribute to him, and on this night, they traveled way out, with some extended jamming with George looking very happy, Dave breathing fire, JB lost in a swirling bliss, JoJo pecking away wildly, Todd (Nance) keeping it all rolling right along, and Sonny (Ortiz) using his "four arms." "Diner," like the rest of the set, was very fast paced and high energy, filled with extended 'tension & release' jamming. Following "Stop Breakin' Down Blues" and J.J. Cale's, "Ride Me High." the band served up a colossal "Driving Song -> Low Spark of High Heeled Boys -> Drums -> Low Spark of High Heeled Boys -> Driving Song." Making "Driving Song" the 'bread' of a jam (hold the peanut butter) sandwich, as they so often do, the band came to a pause only to break into the rare cover, Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys." Full of great energy, also summing up the evening and alluding to things still to come: "If you see something that looks like a star, And it's shooting up out of the ground, And your head is spinning from a loud guitar, And you just can't escape from the sound, Don't worry too much it'll happen to you. We were children once playing with toys. And the thing that you're hearing is only the sound Of the low spark of high-heeled boys, high-heeled boys"... The band spun "Low Spark" into "Drums" and left the stage for Sonny to do his thing. He was doing his usual fast paced, high energy percussion thing, but only briefly before he growled into his mic, "Egypt." Egypt? Then he deeply intoned, "All the way from Egypt…....OTEIL!" First, Oteil started out jamming with Todd and Sonny on Sonny's percussion kit. Then, Dave came out for a double bass jam. Oteil remained on stage as the whole band came out to spin right back into "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" to finish it up. At its conclusion, Oteil left and the band paused before steering right back into the "Driving Song" reprise, finishing what they had started a good 30-45 minutes earlier. From here they charged in with "Give" and followed it up with the favorite "Fishwater," sending us, in a flashback, "...back to New Orleans," where they had also closed out the second set, with Jerry Joseph, exactly one week earlier (almost to the hour) with the same tune. After kicking our ass and just about taking our breath away, the band came back out to encore with "Let it Bleed," which it had debuted six days earlier, followed by a semi-rare cover of Neil Young's rockin', "Mr. Soul." "Thank you very much, Good Night," belted JB. 11:45, lights up, house music on ("American Girl" by Tom Petty), time to get outside and get some fresh air. It really did end up being one of those evenings where, you know, everything just sort of falls into place.

I'd like to briefly take this opportunity to say after much contemplation and very critical
listening, GEORGE IS OK WITH ME. In fact, he's more than ok. This will
never be the same band it was with Michael Houser. Those were very special
years. But, just because it will never be the same, doesn't mean it can't
be as good, if not better, than it ever has been. This Fall Tour has offered some of
the best playing this band has ever pulled off; they are in tune, tapped in,
and fully connected. George has brought a whole new and different, lively
energy to the equation, and he is fully in the mix with the rest of the
band. It is obvious that he is thrilled and excited to be in the role he is in, and it
really comes through in his playing on stage. His solos often seem to be driven
by the energy of the crowd; when the audience roars and swells in energy so
does his guitar. All in all, he fits the mold of Widespread Panic perfectly.

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