In the Wake of Vegoose, Widespread Panic quietly embarked on not only their first ever appearance at The Fillmore in Denver, but a 4-night run at that. I was lucky enough to score a ticket for this Thursday night kick off and as people meandered around the block surrounding the venue you could tell spirits were high.
I'm coming up on the ten year anniversary of my first Panic show back in Georgia and as much as things have changed since then, its good to know some are still around. Of course, Panic has been through a lot changes with the loss of founder member Mikey Houser, adding new lead guitarist George McConnell and just exploring new musical avenues in general, but their music plays on. Panic almost personifies life in a way; its not always so great, things end and others begin but the train keeps rolling and you have to make the best with what you got if it feels good. Well, what can I say? It feels damn good.
The band started things off smoothly with old-time original The Take Out and was followed by James Taylor's Knocking 'Round the Zoo. Panic rocks this tune out like it's their own and was aptly played with JB singing "Just knocking 'round the zoo on a Thursday afternoon." Good People is a newer original and is a testament to the band's future songwriting capabilities. The next song, Who Do You Belong To?, always reminds me of listening to my old analog tapes during college in the South. That means nothing to you folks, I know, but the song choice was perfect.
The boys kept the show trucking along with a floor rockin' Dyin' Man and then another old classic, Pickin' Up The Pieces. Pickin' is a slightly slower song with a subtle jazz swing that once again sent my mind wondering. Panic's songs have a timeless feel to them that remind you of the first time you heard the song and yet feels fresh at the same time. Another aptly played tune, One Armed-Steve, had keyboard/piano player, Jo-Jo Hermann, singing, "Well, One-Arm Steve, yeah he threw me out the door, said 'come back sometime when your picture's on the wall". Anyone that's stepped foot in a Fillmore knows the walls are covered with amazing photos of musical acts that have graced their stages. Widespread Panic had now made the Denver wall.
The first set ended with an amazing medley beginning with a cover of Bob Dylan's Baby, Let Me Follow You Down that they pulled off quite well. Lead guitarist, George McConnell pulled off a short solo that Robbie Robertson would have beeen proud of. This gem led into the stop-and-go composed epic, Conrad. The story of Conrad the Caterpillar twists its way to an amazing set closing jam and climatic lyrical return, "I just need a little room to fly, I spent all of my days just trying to keep dry. Oh, I'd take a waterfall or a drop for my eye, I can't see nothin' from here anyway, I might as well make room and try…might as well try."
The piano bar bouncing Greta let Jo-Jo show off his dexterity and set the tone for a festive second set. Dirty Business, originally written by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, has been in the Panic repertoire for sometime now and is always a fun one to hear. Dirty Business melted into a dark segue that eventually led into the newer tune, You Should Be Glad held down by one of the many catchy Dave Schools bass lines. The mesh of music continued as the band morphed into the live favorite, Bears Gone Fishin'. At about this time in the concert, if you haven't realized that Dave Schools is one of the baddest bass players in the scene, you aren't paying attention. The man provides such an original sounding low end that blends melody and intricate note placement all you can do is nod your head and smile.
Just when I thought I had probably heard all the old stuff for the night, they put me right in my place. Blight, a Panic tune that caught my ear nearly ten years ago, comes thumping from Schools's bass while Sonny Ortiz on percussion and drummer Todd Nance pick up the beat. Blight dissolves into a Drums breakdown to which the band leaves the stage for a brief stint as Schools comes back on stage for some Drums and Bass. A few teases later, I'm certain I heard a Dark Star tease in there, the band remerges for R.L. Burnside's Snake Drive, a hard-hitting blues rocker.
A slight downshift in the set found the band meandering through the swirling sounds of the old Robert Johnson tune, Me and the Devil Blues, which Panic released on their official debut album Space Wrangler back in 1988. Yes, sir, the song selection was right up my alley tonight and the rest of the crowd seemed to agree. The jam out of Me and the Devil Blues rolled like a runaway train picking up speed and eventually settling into Neil Young's Mr. Soul. A regularly played, but always welcomed, All Time Low was next and had its standard peak at the end that never ceases to get feet moving and people smiling. Rock ended this great set and gave JB one last chance to sing from his whiskey-stained belly. I mean that in a good way.
The encore was an uplifting one, starting with NRBQ's Help Me Somebody led by Jo-Jo's rolling piano work and accompanying JB vocals. And if there is ever a song you can expect Panic to finish with after a show like that, it's Ain't Life Grand. The bar was set for this 4-night run, and set pretty high at that. You have to approach these things like a marathon. If I know Panic, and I don't, tonight was a warm-up lap and their just getting warmed up. As for tonight, "Everybody's moving but me, but I'm gonna make it home piece by piece."
Past Ryan Reviews:
Mountain Jamming with The Allman Brothers Band
I'll Have The Widespread Panic With A Side Of Galactic
Trey Anastasio & 70VP at Red Rocks