Last Sunday, I ventured down to Richmond for two sets of Southern rock ‘n’ roll with Widespread Panic at the Landmark Theatre. Two things about this venue: 1) it’s a beautiful place, with ornate tiles and that old-school theater architecture that just feels special; 2) they do not serve alcohol. Being at a Widespread Panic show without whiskey, let alone an ice cold brew, just felt wrong.
But I digress…
We were a bit late, and I was pissed to have missed “Pilgrims > Ain’t Life Grand.” I really dig “Pilgrims,” and although I am not a huge “Ain’t Life Grand” fan, these are two songs I actually know. But my lack of Panic song knowledge luckily didn’t matter this evening, as we met up with some new friends who just happen to be huge Panic fans. Some of the fellas helped me remember what I didn’t already know as the show progressed, so that helped.
Overall, the first set was typical Panic for me. It was good starter material, but only a few songs really got me fired up. “Ribs And Whiskey > Goodpeople” had some feel-good rockin’ and served as a reminder of just how on-point Jimmy Herring is on guitar. The man has a precision on the PRS that really raises the bar for this band.
That said, Herring is almost too tight a guitar player for this band. Panic, as my show-mates and I discussed, is really just a glorified, improv-heavy bar band (and I mean that in the best way possible). So Herring’s perfection and spot-on shredding are almost too tight a tone for JB, Schools, and the rest of the boys. But overall, Herring is a great addition, and I honestly think I like him (gasp!) more than their original guitarist Mikey Houser. Yes, I realize that may be considered blasphemy in some Panic circles. Too bad; moving on…
While the first several segments were solid, it wasn’t until “Chilly Water” where the band really seemed to gel and get the crowd to respond with aplomb. If you haven’t been to a show when the band played this tune, there’s the added craziness of water being thrown around by enthusiastic Spread Heads. Except for taking a few ounces of H2O straight into my eye socket (note: please toss your water up), the extra enthusiasm was appreciated as the temp inside the Landmark was damn hot.
My only complaint with Panic is the slower tunes. A few of these tunes seemed to kill the energy and momentum. Don’t get me wrong, I can deal with a well-placed ballad type of song here and there. But these tunes (and their placement during the sets) left me scratching my head a bit. From what I could tell, the rest of the crowd felt the same.
The second set definitely picked up the pace, with the killer “Disco” opener featuring some top-notch, groove-oriented rock. They followed it up with “Pigeons,” which really was a great choice. The “Tall Boy > Time is Free” segment was another highlight. Good-time rockin’ into the crazy (dare I say psychotic) ramblings of JB doing “Time Is Free,” which I guess is usually sung by Colonel Bruce Hampton. Very cool.
After a so-so drum sequence and a not-all-that-interesting “Climb to Safety,” the band really picked up the energy and momentum with their final set segment. The “Holden Oversoul > Love Tractor” segment that ended the second set was a big highlight. Two great songs, with a perfectly-executed segue to connect them together. I distinctly remember my buddy saying something along the lines of it reminding him of the tightness of a perfect Phish segue. It was a great way to end the show, but the band came back out for a nice three-song encore of “The Take Out > Porch Song > Postcard,” all great tunes (especially the classic “Porch Song”). The hometown boy, bassist Dave Schools, thanked the Richmond crowd for coming out to party on a Sunday night and that was that.
I have never been a true Panic fanatic. But even though I don’t know every tune, key guitar riff, or transition, I always have a good time at Panic show. It would have been nice to have had a beer or a whiskey, but at least there was some kickass rock ‘n’ roll to keep a smile on my face.
Although Widespread Panic will finish up their Spring tour Saturday night in Dallas, they’ve just announced the rest of their Summer tour, including some key festival appearances and a nice three-night run at Red Rocks.
Setlist (courtesy of EverydayCompanion)
4/27/08 – Landmark Theatre, Richmond, VA
Set 1 – Pilgrims > Ain’t Life Grand, Airplane> Take Off Jam> Genesis, Ribs and Whiskey > Good People, Chainsaw City, Her Dance Needs No Body> Chilly Water
Set 2 – Disco> Pigeons> Dark Day Program> You Got Yours> Jam> Tall Boy> Time Is Free> Drums> Climb To Safety> Holden Oversoul> Love Tractor
Encore – The Take Out> Porch Song> Postcard