Today thousands of Widespread Panic fans awoke still scratching their heads over last night's second set at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Of course your hard-core Panic fan will analyze each set they play with both the precision of a Talmudic scholar, perfected in the mold of the Grateful Dead scholars that came before them, and the intense focus of a NASCAR mechanic, the perfect blend of rock and roll creation and down-home country-fuck. There was very little country-fuck in last night's second set, though, and a whole lot of southern prog rock-jazz fusion ripped straight out of the pages of one of the band's greatest influences, the Dixie Dregs, ultimately bringing to mind a sort of hillbilly Return to Forever.
Playing a hefty selection of newer tunes especially from 2003's Ball, the band, under John Bell's leadership, seemed determine to showcase the frequently maligned George McConnell as if to say, "This is George, watch him play, he is one fucking good guitarist, and you damned well better learn to love him." J.B. was talking to George all night while the video monitors zoomed in on his fret hand for solo after solo. Perhaps its all about the music but jam bands and their fans have a certain politics of their own and it had been widely felt in the Widespread community that hiring George to replace the greatly lamented Mikey had been a huge mistake. Last night was one big "get over it" sent by the band.
Red Rocks was the site of Michael Houser's second to last show and has always been a second home for Panic and their fans. Panic's previous three night run at Red Rocks in 2003 after Mikey's death the year before had been very disappointing to most and word from the Spring Tour and the Bonnaroo shows had this Red Rocks stand as being redemption of sorts. Instead, the audience was treated to a somewhat muddy first set of standards highlighted by the always anthemic Chilly Water but with mundane stabs at Little Lilly, a good song which virtually nobody likes, and Weight of the World. Other high points were Holden Oversoul and Rebirtha but overall it was a very business-like and not terribly fluid performance.
The buzz in the crowd seemed to be that the second set would be soulful and dark, with one long jam punctuated by another. It was not to be, though. The song pacing was staccato with seemingly endless interludes showcasing George's fret board prowess and frankly it was underwhelming. The three song encore of crowd pleasers Goin' Out West, All Time Low and Henry Parsons Died ended the show strongly and did bring a measure of boogie-stomp back into the performance, energizing the crowd for today's show.