Widespread Panic’s nearly thirty-year-old traveling carnival of crunched-out jam rock is a spectacle that’s anchored by a faithful following that grows with each seasonal tour. Crafted in the shrieking southern-rock of the Allman Brothers Band and the improvisational mastery of the Grateful Dead, Panic resides among the upper echelon of jam bands, and they’re built to last. This was evident during their Halloween weekend at the 1st Bank Event Center in Broomfield, Colorado, and throughout their fall tour.
Though the sudden announcement that Duane Trucks, guitarist Derek’s brother, would be filling in for Todd Nance came just before the tour kicked off, his raucous beat brought new life to the boys from Athens, GA. No slouch could fine tune over one hundred and twenty songs in preparation for a tour, and this man did it on the fly, working with no end to keep the train rolling.
Setting up shop for a three-night run, John Bell and company packed the house night one, two and three. Lot rats rambled in fervor over the Halloween show and Saturday night as well, but that was before Panic drove the nail home on Sunday night. And you know how the old saying goes, “never miss a Sunday show.”
“Couldn’t imagine a finer place to finish our little tour here,” John Bell said before the band hopped into a “Henry Parsons Died” sandwich, with “Green Onions” the fillings. John “JoJo” Herman let the organ wail on the Booker T. classic before drifting back into “Henry Parsons.” I’d heard that they’d become more straight ahead southern rock and roll over the years, but their ability to extend songs begged to differ. After a brief pause we were treated to “Wonderin’” > “Blackout Blues,” the latter of which featured some nice slide work by Bell and vocals by JoJo. I couldn’t help but notice the lyrics fit perfectly for the end of a three night run, and better yet, the end of tour: “I think we’re riding on our last legs/Like a dark horse down the stretch.” If Sunday night was what their last legs sounds like, sign me up.
Following “Good People,” the band welcomed fiddler Nicky Sanders of The Steep Canyon Rangers to the stage and wasted no time getting into The Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire,” the first since Halloween 2009. The spooky lyrics are perfectly suited for Bell’s gravely southern throat and the audience was well aware of it being somewhat of a rarity. Percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz kept the beat going, bleeding into “Hatfield.” The story of the legendary rainmaker was accompanied by a particular sweet sounding jam in the middle that sounded like a Grateful Dead segue between “China Cat Sunflower” and “I know You Rider,” and from there took off on a tangent, coming together again after nearly fifteen minutes in a jankie “Honky Red.” Originally written by Murray McLauchlan, this song found its way into rotation on Spring Tour earlier this year, and the fiddles’ haunted howl added a new dimension to the bands’ instrumentation.
“Heaven” slowed things down and gave Nicky room to breathe in the electric sandbox. They drifted into the Jimmy Herring driven instrumental, “Party at Your Momma’s House,” and segued into “Ribs and Whiskey,” a rocker and favorite to the fans and band. The intro hinted at Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” and the next full on tease came midway through in the form of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” A set closing hootenanny stomp of “Drinking Muddy Water” by The Yardbirds had heightened energy and was the right choice for a first set closer, a cliffhanger leaving us wanting more.
For a good forty minutes or so, fans trickled around the bar and bathroom lines, playing free arcade games and buying merchandise. The ten-dollar download codes seemed to be a popular choice for those already recapping their favorite moments from the first set and wondering what they’d hear in the second. Those on the standing floor found their friends from the reserved bowl seating and the concession stands pumped out French fries, chicken sandwiches and Dales Pale Ales.
Everybody settled back into their spots, mine seemingly becoming a pond of spilt beer and popcorn. They started the second set with “Little Kin,” and Nicky rejoined the group for a fifteen minute “Barstools and Dreamers.” Accelerating into a Jimmy Herring shredder-jam that found its way into “Gimme,” the band changed the pace from erratic and always in motion to being leisurely in approach. Though that was short lived.
What transpired next was a glimpse of a veteran jam band weaving the majority of a set together with segues and teases and a taste of the sublime. They tore through a chilling “Driving Song” > “Surprise Valley,” initiating the weird and meat of the second set. Their instrumental interplay swept into a drums segment, and was slowly joined by percussion and bassist Dave Schools. They even managed to tease “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. “Blue Indian” attempted to bring the instruments back into union, before shifting gears and revisiting “Surprise Valley” > “Driving Song.” Nicky left the stage after Pilgrims, and the band cranked out “Chilly Water” without him, concluding the second set and mounting anticipation for the encore, or more fittingly, en-four.
“Yeah, we’re not quite done,” someone said from the stage as Panic came back for the encore. A slow, melodic, “Saint Ex” got the just under thirty minute encore going before the first of two Neil Young songs, Mr. Soul, was taken for a stroll. Herring was on fire and the combined guitars teased “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” by the Rolling Stones. The funky “Love Tractor” had Schools moving, and gave way to the second Neil Young tune, and final of the evening, “Don’t Be Denied.” Bell thanked the audience for joining the band over the entire weekend, and brought the marathon Sunday show to a close, ending the tour on a high note at high altitude.