The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Beers, Blazin' & Beads: Widespread Panic

When I told a friend that I was seeing Widespread Panic at the Orpheum last Friday, he did a double-take, flashing a look of derision that suggested that I'd told him I was seeing Fergie live--re-defining "Fraggle Rock" for the new millenium (see pictures from her tour here.) Of course, I understood my friend's bewilderment. This is the year 2007. It's the year of unwarranted presidential pardons. It's the year of Paris Hilton going to jail. It's the year of Mims. It's the year of the apocalypse. The point, if I indeed have one, is that this isn't the coolest time to be a "jam" fan.

If this were the late 90s and we were taking gravity bong hits inside a dorm room in Burlington, jam bands would probably make more sense. By contrast, those seem like the salad days of the Jam-era, a time when 2-ton dinosaurs like Phish, Panic, String Cheese, Moe, and the inexplicably popular acoustic yodels of Dave Matthews, stalked the dormitories of every east coast college kid with a bong and an eighth to burn. But Phish is dead. No one ever really liked Moe in the first place. String Cheese are on their final victory lap, (inevitably, choking on the second-hand smoke). And as for Dave Matthews, the Onion story: Dave Matthews-Not that Into himself Any More aptly summed him up.

Which leaves Athens-based Panic as the last hope of the old guard. A band who for better or worse has been unfairly saddled with the "jam band" tag, thanks to a knack for, it-sounds-really cool-when-you're-stoned guitar solos. But aside from being a guitar band that jams, Panic aren't at all like the former jam kings, Phish. Where Phish fused the Dead's genre-mashing and skill at covers to form a wholly new, light-hearted sound, Panic takes its clues from the gritty dirt-under-the fingernails, Southern rock that Duane and Greg Allman cooked up nearly 40 years ago.
The "Widespread" Portion of the Name Concerns Bassist and Horatio Sanz Look-A-Like, Dave Schools (Second From Right)
Watching Panic on-stage strikes you with the feeling that you're seeing rock n' roll as it was meant to be played, primal, bluesy and raw. A six-piece in perfect harmony, the band rifles off otherworldly guitar licks, rollicking keys, and stadium-sized snare hits, backed by John "JB" Bell's whiskey-soaked croon. Rocking the tiny art-deco Orpheum, Panic's powerful combination of energy and sound pushing your wig back, flooding into your ears. Loud.

Of course, at this point, you might be wondering how I've even made it four paragraphs writing about a Widespread Panic show without even mentioning any form of illicit substance. Good point. Attending a Panic show sober is like attending a Klan meeting nude. You feel even more out of place than you'd normally feel. Not to mention there is the high probability that you'll leave the room feeling a great deal more disturbed by humanity than you ever thought possible.

The place is a veritable pharmaceutical wonderland. Dudes knife through the crowd shouting, "doses," "rolls," "molly." People get carried out on stretchers. Post-show, the parking lot abruptly turned into a whippet party. I kid you not. As a friend pointed out, "what is this, 2001?" These people know how to party. And they do it well, giving off an air of conviviality and affability sorely lacking in Los Angeles. Everyone smiles, carrying strong drink in their hands. It's the sort of scene where you're as apt to run into one of LA's best bloggers, as you are to stumble into a drugged out hippie, begging you to give up your backstage pass just to sit next to Panic lead guitarist Jimmy Herring for two minutes.

The Actual Picture You Get When You Google Image Search "Widespread Panic Show"
It isn't high school. Bands aren't "cool" or "uncool" (except for the Killers, who are most definitely uncool.) They're good or bad. And Widespread Panic are very good. Their lyrics might not be the most erudite, their sound might not be the most original. But they have a heart and a soul to them that 99 percent of modern indie rock bands and rappers lack.

Tireless performers, they played three hours, pouring every ounce of energy that they had into the show. And they've done it night in and night, with a different set list each night, for 20-plus years. I'm not about to drop everything and follow these guys x-country, but I can't fault anyone for wanting to do so for at least a week or two. Just be forewarned that if a guy comes up and asks you to buy some "Molly," he isn't trying to sell you bootlegged DVD's of the Breakfast Club.

MP3: Widespread Panic-Live @ Bonnaroo 6/17/07 (left-click)


At 9:56 AM, Anonymous funkwell said...

So good to see someone with a vast knowledge of everything music give time to these guys we call Widespread Panic. I just caught the 3 night run at red rocks, in Morrison CO. and it was mindbending as well! Your painting of the scene is perfect - and you, me everyone do know how to party. When the circus of a Panic show comes through your town, it is something BIG. Thanks for sharing your love of REAL band that keeps on going. Peace.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

The thng about Panic is that they're on their third wind...they took a hiatus after cofounder and lifeblood Mikey Hauser died. Then they siffered through the G-Mac era, and now Jimmy Herring is leding them back to salvation. And this installment, Panic 3.0, is better than ever.

Taken alone, Panic's music is still resonating with fans that have mostly ditched the jamband genre (or jumping off the bandwagon as we speak). But taken as part of the whole Panic timeline, it's INCREDIBLE to me that this is the band carrying the jam torch. Good for them, and good for the fans. These dudes really put on a sick show, and Jimmy is a better guitarist than just about anyone ever featured on this blog before. So I'm glad to see them get equal time.

Oh, and I'm officially calling you out on not giving me credit for the Horatio Sanz joke. I like to think I'm a bigger man and I'll take a backseat to help you look funny, but no, sadly, I'm not.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Holy shit. So many typos in my comment. Sorry. That's piss poor.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Funkwell: thanks for the kind words, much much appreciated.

Ace: You knew I was gonna' steal that joke the moment you sent me that text message. It was too good. Sorry my friend.

And you're right, Herring is pretty damned amazing. Getting him was like the jam band signing of A-Rod. Except he's much much cooler and doesn't have affairs with mannish strippers. That we know of.

At 1:18 AM, Blogger Captain Handsome said...

Hells yeah, I was at all four nights in California. Saturday was rediculous, I hope the whiskey i threw from the balcony (accident, i sweat it slipped while raging to Parsons) didn't hit you....Bobsled won't let me post about panic but I am a firm firm believer. One of the few people out there that actually have some god damn musical range...


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