Words by: Ann Svilar :: Images by Chris Monson
Widespread Panic :: 06.23.07 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO
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Passing by pointer fingers and t-shirts that read, "You Don't Need a Miracle, You Just Need $45.50," I was reminded that a Saturday night Widespread Panic ticket at Red Rocks is a highly coveted thing. Widespread Panic holds the record for the most sold-out shows at the Amphitheatre. For Panic on the Rocks you must be resourceful and have a good friend in line at 4:30 a.m. with a tarp. For such events, year after year, the excitement, the energy and the whiskey flows.
Dave Schools - WSP :: 06.23 :: Red Rocks
There are some things a person comes to expect from a Saturday night Panic show here. You expect the setting sun casting its pink glow on those red rocks followed by the glittering city lights of Denver in the background. You expect to have a good time and trouble breathing when you climb the mile-high steps. What you can't predict is what kind of performance you'll get. After Michael Houser's death a variety of people have helped the band keep moving forward. Hats off to George McConnell because it simply isn't easy to fill a dead man's shoes. Saturday night at Red Rocks has been very different since our dear friend Mikey passed on.
I suppose such pressure would cause any sensitive human being to want to run off to Costa Rica for the rest of his life. The unsure footing of a lead sound with less finesse would cause any fan to criticize what's happening on stage. The pattern I've seen at Saturday night Red Rocks shows is this: some good old tunes mixed with songs from their two most recent studio albums, Ball and Earth to America, all lacking that Houser flair.
Jimmy Herring - WSP :: 06.23 :: Red Rocks
This was my first time seeing Jimmy Herring since he joined the group at the beginning of fall tour. "Is this going to be a latest album promotional night?," I asked a friend standing next to me. He assured me it would not be, and he was right. Out of a 25-song night only two were from the last five years. Every song in the first set was created before 1999. Saturday night felt like we were hearing a bit of Houser channeled through a friend, and the friend was Jimmy Herring.
What we have now is Panic's "Third Skin." Herring is a man used to "stepping in," having toured with the likes of Aquarium Rescue Unit, Phil Lesh and Friends, The Allman Brothers Band and others. I saw what looked like his three-ring binder cheat sheet behind one speaker. The night was like a fine chili. It stewed, but needed to simmer until it was almost a boil, and then, somewhere in the middle of a massive guitar-ripping shakedown during "Airplane," Panic rose to a boil and all the flavors came out.
John Bell - WSP :: 06.23 :: Red Rocks
If you are a seasoned Panic fan, you've heard these songs before. Houser was like home cooking - you'll never get it better. McConnell was a diner substitute - good, appreciated, but not quite the same flavor. Herring isn't Houser, but Herring IS an undeniably great guitar player who fits this band remarkably well. With a quiet demeanor, he didn't even have a microphone set next to him on his paisley rug. Favoring high notes during solos, he made these old songs sound full. I watched John Bell shimmy his legs in excitement, turning with a smile towards Herring repeatedly all night.
I couldn't believe how much cleaner it all sounded. In fact, the entire night felt different in many ways, including Edie Jackson standing stage right as the evening's sign language interpreter. One thing that sets Panic apart from other jam bands is their deep lyrical well. At a Panic show, you won't hear fluffy songs that make you want to spin around with your hula-hoop. Thankfully. I wondered what it would be like to only read lyrics off of someone's hands and never hear the music. What other fine details would be noticed about the performance that maybe the rest of us miss?
Edie Jackson :: 06.23 :: Red Rocks
As the night waxed on, it seemed that establishing Herring as a lead guitarist was the band's immediate goal. After the first four songs, Herring nearly always took the lead. What I missed Saturday night was JoJo Hermann's solos. He took a few but it wasn't the JoJo show. At times, he faded into the backdrop, where I don't like to see any keyboardist go, and certainly not JoJo.
Old faithful "Chilly Water" splashed the night air with rock & roll during the second set. Always a crowd pleaser, "Chilly Water" is about as old and classic as you can get with Widespread Panic. It is the first song on their first studio recorded album, Space Wrangler, released back in 1988 by Landslide Records. Landslide is a humble Georgia-based company that hasn't made as much noise as some labels, but they have done an incredible amount for Southern music. The roots of Widespread Panic run deep.
Dave Schools & Domingo Ortiz :: 06.23 :: Red Rocks
As big a presence as his bass sound, with hair that just seems to be getting unbelievably longer, Dave Schools plucked us into a "Barstools and Dreamers" sandwich that included "Machine" then back into "Barstools," where our three-night set break pleaser, DJ Logic, joined them. Logic stayed with them into "Dying Man," which became a brand new bright candle with him spinning alongside. Having DJ Logic rule the set break made it feel like the first set ran into the second. By the time we reached drums, I realized I hadn't left my post in the fifth row all night. Finally, what sounded like it was going to be "Arlene" turned into a grand "Red Hot Mama," closing the second set with everyone dancing and pumping their fists.
The encore consisted of "The Take Out" and "Smoking Factory," a Smiling Assassins song that pleased the crowd around me but I found musically and lyrically flat. "Porch Song" followed. It's a song I love but I wish they'd pull it out of rotation, just for one tour, so I could revisit it with new enthusiasm. We could see a pretty mandolin sitting next to JB's left leg all night. After taking a sip from his drink, JB spun around with the mandolin draped over his shoulder and rested it against his chest, singing, "The last place to go" as he drove the band to the "End of the Show."
John Bell - WSP :: 06.23 :: Red Rocks
In the parking lot, discussing highlights of the show and meandering back to our cars, someone slapped a sticker on my friend's back that said, "Bye George, I think they've got it," a play on the Sherlock Holmes catchphrase. Those are harsh words, but as Schools has said, "It's about chemistry." Personally, I like McConnell and I hope to hear him working on new projects in the future. But, the chemistry was evident Saturday night in the full sound of the songs and the smiles on the boys' faces. There was a light in old Panic fans eyes that was refreshing to see. Jimmy Herring, please don't go anywhere. This is Panic's "Third Skin" and we like what we hear.
06.23.07 :: Red Rocks :: Morrison, CO
Set 1: Pigeons > Better Off, All Time Low, Down, Party At Your Mama's House > Blackout Blues, Pickin' Up The Pieces, Airplane > Rock
Set 2: Pleas > Chilly Water, Thought Sausage, Aunt Avis > Second Skin > Greta > Barstools and Dreamers > Machine > Barstools and Dreamers*, Dyin' Man* > Jam* > Drums* > Red Hot Mama*
E: The Take Out > Smoking Factory > Porch Song, End Of The Show
* with DJ Logic on turntables
JamBase | Rocky Mountain High
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