Widespread Panic, Grand Sierra Theatre, Reno, NV – 7/11
Jimmy and JoJo earlier this year – photo by Ian Rawn
On the heels of two well-reviewed shows at the fabulous Fox Theatre in Oakland, Widespread Panic rolled into Reno Nevada’s Grand Sierra Ballroom on July 11th. Expectations waned between fans. Some argued this was the kind of show, a one-off late in the tour, sandwiched between several multi-night stands, when Panic blows it up. Others thought the opposite, coming off a two-nighter in Oakland, with two consecutive two-night stands coming up in L.A. and Vegas, that this show could be the bummer of summer tour.
Regardless of the pre-show banter, one thing’s for sure, the boys of Widespread Panic love to play in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area. Maybe they don’t like the sound in the old Mt. Bleu Showroom (formerly known as Caesar’s), but in most fans’ opinions, Panic has never played a less than stellar show in greater Tahoe area. Although there’d be no major bustouts, like “Easy Wind” in Oakland [First time in 2,468 shows], the fans with the positive outlooks were right, once again. In fact, arguably, after attending the show on 7/11/11, one can strongly argue that Panic is playing as tight and cohesive as they have in their illustrious 25-year career.
If you know Panic, a quick glance at the first set speaks directly to those who were arguing for the one show barnburner. A well-chosen mix of original material and covers. Several classic originals that keep fans coming back for more, and hook new ones each time they’re played. Solid segues, a tune that doesn’t get played as much as it should, and a couple that many core fans were blown away with such selections in the first set.
The opening choice was a solid “Driving Song”, which bled perfectly into a newer song, from the band’s most recent album, Dirty Side Down, “Cotton Was King”. It was “Heaven” that got most long-time fans attention in the third slot of set one, since “Heaven” is more commonly played towards the end of a show, or as an encore. Nobody seemed to mind, and I think many fans took this selection as a sign of what was to come. After the second verse of “Driving Song” closed the initial segue, Panic dove into two of their textbook tunes in “Heroes” and “Wondering.” Now it may have been a select few of us, but having seen many shows over the years, from the east to the west, New Years and Halloween shows included, it just seems “Sleeping Man” should get played more often than it does. Case in point, when those first few notes erupted in a quick transition out of “Wondering”, the Grand Sierra Ballroom went completely nuts!
The funked out song showcasing JoJo’s fiery keyboard skills, and the lyrical prowess of bassist Dave Schools, on yet another epic cover written by Vic Chesnutt was a definite highlight. When “Tortured Artist” followed, I almost forgot it was the first set. The dark, grinding jam lets guitar hero Jimmy Herring go deep, and is yet another fan favorite commonly reserved for much later in a show. “Tortured Artist” lead right into a rousing “1×1” raged by JoJo on lead vocals, as usual, before a brief break and the notes to “Papa’s Home” filled the venue. All were pretty sure this was going to close the set, and what a first set it was. That is, until one of Panic’s most beloved covers went down, which is definitely a song almost always played at the very end of a show, the Neil Young juggernaut, “Last Dance.” The whole place was literally shaking. I kid you not. Fists pumping, ladies twirling, dudes sweating, beer spilling-the set break scene looked like the end of a show. People were fired up!
The second set was stellar, but somehow didn’t quite capitalize on the seeds that were planted in the first set. That said, it’s really a matter of a band killing it on all cylinders because set two was a really good chunk of Widespread Panic music. Highpoints include the jam out of “One Arm Steve”, “Let it Rock”, and especially the four songs that followed. A soaring “Ride Me High” into a killer “Drums” segment, into Schools just completely owning a huge version of “Stop-Go”, before the old Mikey Houser classic, “You Got Yours.” After a marvelously played run of tunes, once again people were throwing down with energy seldom found anywhere else except at a Widespread Panic show.
Perhaps nodding to the fact that the last few times the band has played in the Reno/Tahoe area they’ve performed at least two, if not three nights, the encore consisted of a diverse mix of three well selected songs. A classic slow, but rocking ballad in “I’m Not Alone,” a dark and headbangingesque tune in “Contentment Blues”, before the jazzy odyssey of “Weight of the World” capped off the night. Another blowout in the Reno/Tahoe area for Widespread Panic, and another great show from a summer tour that fans have been raving about since Red Rocks. If that’s the last Panic West Coasters get for a while, since fall and winter plans announced thus far are all concentrated in the east and southeast, boys, you went out on a high note. For the record, all people did post-show was rave about the high quality music they had just experienced, and if they could find a way to make it to L.A. or Vegas. Not a bad way to go out, and keep the fire burning strong after 25 years. Not bad at all.