Widespread Panic, ACL Live Austin, TX- 10/26
Austin, Texas is widely known as The Live Music Capital of the World. On October 26th Widespread Panic (WSP) paid a visit, kicking off the second leg of their fall tour at the Moody Theater, the home of the famous Austin City Limits television program. Austin is renown for the eclectic, diverse live shows it offers throughout its city limits, year-round. Interestingly, WSP has grown its name as a band that does the same. After a well-received warm up show the night before, Saturday’s offering speaks to what happens when a band like WSP steps up to the plate in a venue like the Moody, in a city like Austin, with a sold out crowd ready to get down to business.
Set one showcased tightly played individual songs that built slowly throughout the frame. All six band members took an opportunity to individually shine throughout the set, although perhaps the most glaring highlight of the night, and a WSP show in the now is how cohesive the total band plays as one solitary unit. Bassist David Schools on the bass-heavy layers of “Stop-Go,” lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist John Bell’s work on “True to My Nature” and “Ribs and Whiskey” and keyboardist Jo-Jo Hermann’s playing on “C. Brown” stand as highlights. But it was the final three song selections the really turned the heat up in Austin and got the crowd primed for the main event of the evening.
It’s hard to not hear the playing of guitarist Jimmy Herring explode through the music in general, but upon relistening to “Radio Child” you can actually hear the crowd turn it up as Jimmy does the same. In a clear turning point of the set the band took the Moody capacity crowd of around 2,700 on one wild ride before dropping the energy out for a dark slice of “Mercy.” While “Mercy” is a slow, twisting blues drenched tale it bodes well with a certain side that WSP delves into on special occasions. With a smooth segue into “Flat Foot Floozy” the venue erupted and for the first time since October 8th, 2011 fans let loose on the Steve Ferguson tune that ignited both long time fans and those not quite as versed in the deep catalogue of WSP.
Set two built on the energy from the end of set one. “The Take Out” served as set opener signaling a probable move into “Porch Song,” but instead “Proving Ground” > “Big Wooly Mammoth” back into “Proving Ground” took its place. Immediately after a well played set one and loose set break the Moody was thrown back into musical chaos with these first few selections by WSP.
A quality take on the classic “Pilgrims” broke the stride out of the first big segue of set two before “You Should be Glad” brought the energy back up and the clear highlight of the set and show took place in “Diner.” Always a fan favorite, “Diner” has the ability to really shape a set and/or show and most certainly played that role on Saturday night at the Moody. With 20+ minutes of an intricately woven piece of music that nailed its standard song structure and breached out into new improvisational terrain, “Diner” let each band member throw down in unison alongside some incredibly impressive lighting work employed by Paul Hoffman and crew.
A segue into “Drums” let the building take a moment while drummer Todd Nance and percussionist “Sunny” Ortiz built a beat out of “Diner” that when combined together plays out at over thirty minutes of music you should take a listen to upon finishing this review. Never a band to leave the crowd hanging a monster “Hatfield” brought the Moody back out from “Drums”. A crowd sing-along during “Blue Indian” followed before “Porch Song” sandwiched the set with every human body in the venue on their feet cheering the band on an incredible night of music. The two song encore of “Let’s Get the Show on the Road” and “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” nearly blew the roof of the building for one more time before WSP sent the crowd off into the cool Austin night not exactly looking for more music after such a standout show.
After 27 years WSP is showing no signs of slowing down. With guitarist Jimmy Herring’s sound seemingly blending into the overall textures of the band as smoothly as ever, WSP is prime to keep making memorable music as they prepare for their Halloween run, a late fall tour up the east coast, New Year’s in Atlanta and a third trip to Mexico this upcoming spring. Times are good for WSP. If you’re rearing to pump some fists and lock into a band that’s as tight, explosive and playing as well as they ever have, saddle up and drop into the next show you can. You won’t regret it.