Having never seen Widespread Panic west of the great city of New Orleans over the course of the last decade, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the crowd inside the beautiful Wiltern on the uneasy eve of the overhyped Carmageddon (hype in LA, shocker), and whether this alteration in my longitudinal center(s)-of-gravity would translate into a profoundly different musical experience. The crowd, much to my surprise, was more or less the same welcoming, energetic bunch you’d expect to see in Savannah, Nashville, or Chicago – faithful and zoned in for the duration of the lengthy sets and rarin’ for more by the time the final notes of Proving Ground rang out just a shade before midnight. Perhaps the high level of performance Panic operated on can be attributed to a mid-tour stride or the fact that it was night 2 at the band favorite Wiltern, but them fellers seemed to be cruising along in their comfort zone on Thursday night (especially throughout the outrageously absorbing and multi-directional second set).
Ironically, this night (that would turn out to be one of my favorite WP shows in recent years) opened a bit slow with an awkward rendition of “From The Cradle” that was about the only low point in the nearly 4 hour affair. The first set was enjoyably upbeat and straight-laced on the whole, a nice exhibition of the band’s bluesy leanings (especially on early covers “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” and (my first) “She Caught The Katy”) and served as a Rock solid jumping-off point for the monstrous second set that would follow. JoJo Hermann MVP’d the first half, taking a handful of solo turns on the organ, clav and keys, including a nice step-out during “Down.” After throwing some cheap heat to the tour stop in “Hatfield,” (you made rain for L.A.) the well-executed and familiar cover tune “Fixin’ To Die” fittingly capped off set one.
Dave Schools (or is it Dave Smalls?) took the mic before kicking things into freight train mode for set two, sending out Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” in honor of his father’s birthday. As a long-time admirer of Zevon’s body of work, it was thrilling to see this one pop off to kick off the second set. Next, a rockin’ “Goodpeople” eased towards a peak intensity that smoldered in during the silky, slow burn of “Dark Bar,” cooling down the packed house before an explosive and HEAVY, fiercely hard rock rendition of “North.” Although “North” is perhaps leaned on a bit much, this version was downright muscular, gritty and dramatic at times with Jimmy in the driver’s seat. To follow, “Mercy” zoned most of the room into a introspective space before Mr. Schools/Smalls captained the remainder of the show, tweaking the gravity of the room and steering the way through “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and the closing suite of Diner > Pilgrims > Fishwater > Drums (w/ Drums and Bass out) > Fishwater. In short, the quintessential “Diner” was a mini-odyssey in itself and “Pilgrims” was “Pilgrims” (i.e. an always appreciated classic). But the real gem surfaced with the appearance of a straight filthy “Fishwater” (that included a Drums > Drums & Bass session) that had the place ROARING in reaction to Dave Schools’ bizarre, exquisite bass work out of the lengthy Drums. Nearly 20 minutes after “Fishwater” initially kicked in, the rest of the band members joined back in and the NOLA-flavored tune flawlessly oscillated back into form to close set two.
“Expiration Day” opened the encore and served once again as a poignant nod to their fallen friend and Brute co-conspirator Vic Chesnutt. Next, JB put down the axe and took the mic to sing “Postcard” (nod to Jim Morrison?) in rare fashion before “Proving Ground” closed down the smokin’ voyage. After 25 years, the band still exhibits a fresh, infectious enjoyment of their craft that lends itself to the quality of the show.
Now I’m just jealous of all of the LA Carmageddon refugees making the trek over to Vegas for this weekend’s run. Until next time…
Widespread Panic – Down
Widespread Panic – Hatfield
07/14/11 Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
1: From The Cradle, Mr. Soul, Rock, Airplane > Stop Breakin’ Down Blues, Down, Dirty Side Down, She Caught The Katy, Hatfield, Fixin’ To Die
2: Lawyers, Guns, And Money, Goodpeople > Dark Bar > Goodpeople > North, Mercy > Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Ain’t Life Grand, Diner > Pilgrims > Fishwater > Drums > Fishwater
E: Expiration Day > Postcard > Proving Ground
[JB without guitar for Postcard]