Widespread Panic, Pepsi Center, Denver, CO – 12/31
Photo by Casey Flanigan
There must be an old show-going adage which states, “The enjoyment of the concert is directly proportional to the difficulty in getting there.” If not, I’m stating it now.
Single-digit (Fahrenheit!) temperatures are rare, even for Denver. The freeway between Santa Fe and the Mile High City is usually smooth sailing, but there were a few horrendous, automobile-mangling accidents along the way which slowed my progress. Luckily (?), I wasn’t one of the mangled until after the show when some knucklehead decided to blow through (or possibly skidded through) a stop light.
Nevertheless, my crew managed to arrive at the Pepsi Center a mere 3 songs into the first Panic set. Now, it’s unusual for a band (any band, in my experience) to hit the stage on time. Upon investigation, it seems Panic came on a full half-hour early – madness!
Arriving to a semi-acoustic “Wondering” worked for me. The crowd was jubilant, smiling, shaking their collective booty, ecstatic that “church” was back in session. “Who Do You Belong To?” closed the first set, which ran about 35 minutes. Despite saying they’d “be right back,” the set break was nearly as long as the set. It’s all relative, I guess; a 20-25 minute set break between two hour-long sets would’ve seemed much shorter. But now the “magic” was coming on, and the lights came down for second set.
Several highlights of note here: Schools delivered an exceptional take on “Blight,” which usually strikes me as way too gloomy but, as Goldilocks said after the third bowl, this was juuussst right. “North” – one of several Jerry Joseph songs Panic plays – was solid. This one’s been in their repertoire for years (since 1999, according to Everyday Companion), but seems to sound better with Jimmy Herring behind it. Beefier, anyway. That’s true of their sound in general since Herring joined, though I do miss Houser’s sweet vocals.
Opener Garrett Dutton (a.k.a. G. Love) stepped in during Hermann’s “Blackout Blues” to throw down a little harmonica spice. I always get a kick out of this number, and this may be one of the better versions I’ve heard. MVP of the night award goes to Hermann for bringing his A-game.
The “Bust It Big” echoed through my memory long into the wee hours of the morning, even though it’s not normally one of my faves, and led into an unusually restrained (though not acoustic) “Pleas.” The Buffalo Springfield nugget “Mr. Soul” – in Panic’s kit bag almost since their inception a quarter-century ago – finished the second set nicely.
Shock and alarm, however! I was sure they’d play through the countdown at midnight and then take a set break. Well, here it was, 11:40 p.m. and no time to check into merch or concessions or make a go for the urinal.
Whether Panic brought the confetti or it was a billed service of the Pepsi Center staff, I can’t say, but when the hockey clock counted down to midnight, every square-inch of air in the Pepsi Center was filled with the stuff. Quite a sight.
I should also mention my hat’s totally off to their lighting designer for cobbling together the diamond-trampoline display rig centerpiece. It’s the kind of “why didn’t somebody think of this before” thing that gets a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” for the buck, especially since it was most likely things they had lying around already.
Business time! Third set highlight for some (not for me, but some) was David Bromberg’s guest-appearance on “Sharon.” Fitting enough, since it was his song to begin with, and he did add some real talking-guitar razzmatazz to the proceedings. Rumor has it that Panic is/was holed up somewhere in Colorado recording with Bromberg, so keep an ear out for a release someday soon. Bromberg stuck around for a number called “Tongue,” a bluesy shuffle which may or may not be one of the songs they’re working out in the studio. Bromberg was so in the zone he failed to notice when he’d stepped out of spotlight range during his solo. Priceless.
The next half-dozen or so songs were great, including 2 of my 4 highlights of the night overall (“Blight” was the first, for those keeping score): “Imitation Leather Shoes” was without a doubt the best reading of that song I’ve heard, and “Pilgrims,” always a favorite of mine, was nothing short of sublime.
“Postcard” is one of their fast/slow/fast numbers which dates back to the early days, but was never recorded in the studio until 1993’s “Everyday.” It’s a relative rarity as far as set lists go, and was an interesting transition between “Love Tractor” and “Pilgrims,” but its presence made me miss “Machine” all the more, especially since that might’ve segued into “Barstools and Dreamers,” which, unfortunately for me, was not played. I remember also really, really hoping for a “Gilded Splinters,” but no such luck there.
However, after a beautiful “Blue Indian” for the first encore, my jaw actually dropped open in disbelief when the first notes of the second encore blared through the speakers. I can’t remember the last time my jaw dropped at an encore choice from any band. It was the late Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Even though it was the 3rd rarest song of the night, they swaggered right through, hitting every stabbing, throbbing note. This was overall highlight number four. I was still floating through the memory of the unexpected joy of LG&M during “Action Man,” the last encore, and before I knew it, the show was over.
All told, almost 3 hours-worth of a great way to spend New Year’s Eve, if you like psychedelic southern rock. And if you can deal with the general admission floor kids who sneaked their way into your section and told you to f**k off when it was discovered they were occupying your seats. And if you don’t mind being a little more deaf afterward. And if you don’t mind coming home with a cold. And if you don’t mind a few little dings on your otherwise well-kept cruise-mobile. My buddy Andy (who actually wore a “Lawyers, Guns and Money” shirt to the show, the psychic bastard), despite being no kind of sci-fi fan, dubbed my ride “Battle-scar Galactica.” And so it shall be. My memories of a fantastic New Year’s show hopelessly entwined with all those little difficulties. Maybe you gotta pay for happiness with an equal amount of misery.
Or, maybe that’s a little overly cynical. Happy New Year, everyone!