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Widespread Panic with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band/The Crystal Method, Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV- 10/31

Watching Widespread Panic function as a full-speed ahead steam engine during its headline spot on the second day of the Vegoose Music Festival got me psyched for its Halloween show the next evening at the Thomas and Mack Center. One of the last times I saw the band, probably Bonnaroo 2003, its inherent power was there but the intensity didn't pull me in. I didn't give up on 'em because I still returned to their CDs and even came around to liking my copy of that Bonnaroo appearance. But felt that I needed a break.

Some may argue that I’m nuts and it was a bad idea, which is fine. All I know is that WSP grabbed me by the shoulders on two consecutives nights in Las Vegas, shook me all night long, and made me a believer again.

Arriving at the Thomas and Mack Center, there was barely a buzz happening outside. Maybe it was due to the fact that the lot scene was pretty empty due to so many people walking or taking taxis or limousines to the venue.

Once inside the "bomp bomp bomp bomp" beat of The Crystal Method running through its DJ set could be heard. That immediately got the blood pumping, which was a good thing since the place felt like the inside of a refrigerator.

Turns out a thousand or so people had the good sense to make it early for the electronica duo’s set, which consisted of mixed and mashed tracks from The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, New Order, Radiohead and more. With a no-frills set, Ken Jordan, dressed as an L.A. "jailbird," and Scott Kirkland, dressed as Slash, relied on upbeat, four-to-the-floor numbers. It not only made fans out of the WSP crowd, who got into the opening set as well as another one at intermission, but also the headliner. Typical of the methodology of jambands, The Crystal Method’s final number found Kirkland meshing his turntable work with Widespread’s second set opener, "Superstition."

Starting its first set at 8:10 p.m., the members of Widespread Panic should have had more than enough time to come down from the adrenaline high of the Sunday show, get in several hours of play on the slots or tables and still get a rejuvenating amount of rest. Monday’s Halloween gig seemed as if the band as well as the lucky thousands who got inside the sold out Thomas and Mack followed that script.

Marking the date, John Bell wore what looked like a leprechaun outfit including pointy ears and JoJo Hermann dressed up as an overweight security guard. Later, the group offered a Halloween treat/tribute to "Mars Attacks!" by pulling away a curtain at the back of the stage to reveal a couple alien ships hovering in front of signs for the Sands and Tropicana Casinos while a couple of angry-looking aliens popped up just below the lighting tress.

The prior evening Bell seemed to be in a "zone" of concentration that focused on the myriad of sounds around him and his own participation to it. Tonight, he was much more relaxed. Dressed as he was, he probably had no choice. Still, he and his bandmates showed that they meant business for this special event, opening with strong versions of "Love Tractor" and "Imitation Leather Shoes." "Born Under a Bad Sign," one of six numbers played for the first time on this joyous occasion, followed.

Sure, WSP had Trey Anastasio and Colonel Bruce Hampton visit onstage at Sam Boyd, but at the Thomas and Mack we got a large dose of Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Four members from DDBB showed up for "Vampire Blues" and stayed through the rest of set one’s final three numbers. They were around for "Superstition," stepped aside during "Rebirtha," "Climb to Safety," "Monstrosity" then returned for the post-"Drums" numbers. Intentional or not, the musicians were around for a dozen numbers.

While the Sam Boyd concert included numbers by Vic Chesnutt ("Sleeping Man"), Jerry Joseph ("North") and Bob Dylan ("Solid Rock"), a couple other first-time played songs in the second set were covers as well. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ "I Put A Spell On You" featured trumpet and trombone solos from Dirty Dozen, while Martha and the Vandellas’ "Nowhere to Run Nowhere to Hide" was part of a three-song encore.

"Coconut" capped off the three-hour show, and for better and worse the good times of the night left me wanting more. Unless I find the time and money to make it to Atlanta for WSP's New Year's Eve run, I'm stuck waiting to be satisfied until some time in 2006.

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