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Widespread Panic, The Backyard, Austin, TX- 10/11

Saturday was the second night of back-to-back shows put on by Widespread Panic at the Backyard. A spacious, open venue, The Backyard is one of the best places in Austin to see live music. Sadly, though, development around the venue has forced it to move several miles down the road, so this would be one of the last shows at the location, and it proved the perfect venue for the groups music.

It was a beautiful October evening, and the six members of Widespread Panic took the stage for their first set just as the sun was setting. Alas, I found myself surrounded by the rejects of Fraternity Row drunkenly yelling and talking about the most inane, banal topics, so I decided to move further back and have a beer to settle my nerves. It helped considerably. The layout of The Backyard slopes gently toward the stage, so being in the back affords a great view not only of the stage, but also of the crowd, which was in the thousands. Impressive in both numbers and enthusiasm, they all knew the words and never stopped dancing. Even those in the beer lines and the bartenders couldn’t keep themselves from moving.

Opening with “All Time Low,” followed by “North,” Widespread Panic settled into a groove, cranking out tasty beats and long jam sessions. They followed with “Give” and “Dirty Business,” with the latter the highlight of the first set, full of bluesy, folksy rock, each member playing off the other, ebbing and flowing for minutes on end. The first set ended with a strong “Henry Parsons Died” and it hinted at what was to come in the second set. This was one of the heavier songs in the set, and it included an organ-led cover of “Green Onions,” one of my favorite instrumentals.

After a half-hour break, Widespread Panic again took the stage. Once they started playing, what we had already heard seemed like a mere warm-up for what was to come, as if they were telling the crowd, “I hope you’ve enjoyed things so far, because now we’re turning it up to 11. Get ready.” They were louder. They rocked harder. The songs certainly lasted longer. This fact didn’t quite sink in until the second song, “Diner,” which felt like it went on for twenty minutes and contained a palpable energy the entire crowd found contagious. I was so enamored by the sharp, precise playing and the elaborate lighting, I lost track of time. It was a challenge to write while they played; I didn’t want to take my attention away from the music. “Surprise Valley” featured a lengthy three-man drum solo, with Domingo Oritz taking the lion’s share of the time banging on the bongos and steel drums. Sure, it did start to drag a bit near the end, but it was still an entertaining sight. “Greta,” the following song, gave Jojo Hermann a chance to show off his ivory-tickling talents. Indeed, all members of the band would lead particular jams throughout the night.

While writing notes during “Greta,” someone leaned toward me and said, in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Everything’s going to change. Write that down.” He then leaned back and resumed his dancing. Was this a prophet, or just a drunk? I’m not taking any chances, so I’m sharing his message with you. However, as regards the show, I'd say he was on the money, at least retroactively, on a night that featured a particularly rousing second set from Widespread Panic.

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