In his first blog post for the Live Music Blog, Ben Parker reviews a recent Widespread Panic show from the Chicago Theatre and waxes a bit on the George McConnell departure from the band. Stay tuned for more posts from Ben in the future…
When Widespread Panic rolled into Chicago on August 11th for at three night stand they were being followed. Followed by rumors, speculation and the fact that guitarist George McConnell had just left the band mid-tour due to unspecified reasons.
The rumors about the changing of guitarists began when long time producer/friend John Keane and Sam Holt (former guitar tech of founding member Michael Houser) joined summer tour. Many fans began to speculate that this meant McConnell might be on the way out leaving the door open for Holt or possibly Jimmy Herring (formerly of Aquarium Rescue Unit, Phil and Friends, and The Dead) to join the band. Well, by the time they hit Chicago, rumor had become fact, leaving Holt and Keane to finish up the tour and leaving many fans wondering about the next incarnation of Widespread Panic.
For me, Chicago was my first Panic of the year, and I was pumped to see the boys. I could not have been happier to see that my tickets were first row in front of Dave on the first night. It was amazing to be that close and see the interaction between the guys on stage…
Show number one brought several surprises and was a fantastic show to get the ball rolling on what would be a great weekend. “Little Kin” kicked it off, and the crowd settled right in by the time JB bellowed the first few lyrics of “C Brown.” “Contentment Blues” was a surprise as were the last three songs of the first set, “Chunk Of Coal,” “The Last Straw > Cream Puff War,” which saw the band playing very well, and making a statement.
“Papa Legba > Tall Boy” started the second set off and had the crowd at a high energy level. The latter was a little rough around the edges with Keane and Holt having difficulty with the signature notes, but somewhere in the middle they worked out of it and worked into the heavy, riff laden “Goin’ Out West” which was the peak of the show. Holt was particularly dirty which lent itself well to the way the song is played. The old Jerry Garcia cover “Let It Rock” was a nice gem before “Pigeons” and the “Jack > Climb To Safety” second set closer. They encored with “May Your Glass Be Filled,” and “None Of Us Are Free” which were both just fine with me, but definitely left me wanting more.
Classic Panic was the motif of night number two. “Travelin’ Light” and “A of D” was a nice way to get things going and my view from the first row in the balcony was great. “Sleeping Man” started what would be a Dave Schools trifecta, with “Flat Foot Flewzy” and “Blight” on Panic’s agenda as well. Second set was pure Panic and started with “Machine > Barstools,” “I’m Not Alone,” “Holden Oversoul > Henry Parsons Died” into “You Should Be Glad,” one of the better songs on the new album Earth To America. My favorite song of the night was the always funky “Red Hot Mamma” (it almost always is when I get it). John Keane had major problems with the beginning of “Pilgrims,” which has been a problem song for Panic since Mikey. It is one of their biggest songs, a fan favorite, and always the centerpiece of any set, but to me it is all forgiven. I’m sure it’s not easy to step in and play those leads. “City Of Dreams” and “Solid Rock” finished night number two, and off to aliveOne to talk Panic and wind things down.
I was sitting about ten rows from the stage close to center for night number three. Ahh, last show of the tour…on a Sunday. It doesn’t get any better in Panicland. And they didn’t disappoint. I could start to pick out a song here and a song there, but the whole show was like candy, dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles, so here it is…
1: Pusherman > Hatfield > Rock, Weight Of The World > Nobody’s Loss > This Part Of Town > One Kind Favor, From The Cradle > Fishwater
2: Goodpeople, Driving Song > Disco > Don’t Be Denied > Surprise Valley > Jam > Driving Song > Impossible > Drums > Arleen > Papa’s Home > Space Wrangler, Tennessee Before Daylight > Chilly Water
E: End Of The Show > Last Dance
What a way to end things. “Pusherman” to get it going and “Hatfield” two songs into the set? I knew we were in for an amazing night at that point. After that, as you can see it was classic, after great cover, after classic. The mood was very good at the end of it all, and my guess is that everyone involved got what they were hoping for. Even with some of the miscues and troubles that Holt and Keane went through, the band sounded more like Widespread Panic than they had in a long time, and it was beautiful to hear.
Looking ahead, the Jimmy Herring era is about to begin. He is a talented player and my hope is that he will bring some levity to that aspect of the band. Panic will never sound exactly like they did up until August of 2002, but their future burns brightly. I mean, let’s face it, what they endured over the last few years would have finished most bands, and it is great to see them forging ahead. I have no doubt that some of the best Widespread Panic is waiting for us up the road.