WSP | 09.27-9.29 | Oakland

By: Dennis Cook

Widespread Panic :: 09.27.07 :: Paramount Theatre :: Oakland, CA

John Bell - WSP :: 09.27 by J. Miller
Like some great clattering metal construct lurching to life – sturdy as iron bars but screwed together loose so it rattles when it picks up speed - Widespread Panic emerged not with their own words but those of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. If ever there were a roughly divine, steel wool blues howl as suited to "Goin' Out West" as Waits' fractured pipes it's John Bell. Singing about karate and voodoo and looking good without a shirt, well, it's self-conscious braggadocio custom made for that rough tool living in J.B.'s throat. Out West is where this long lived, ever mighty conglomerate of stupidly talented gents found themselves, and a quick look around showed every single boy and girl up on their feet, glad to have them on the Golden Coast again.

Panic has always seemed to me a clubhouse I wasn't invited to. Arriving too late for Michael Houser, save for a couple shows many moons ago, and never able to bring myself to study all the ins and outs of their voluminous catalog and knotted history, I kept them at arm's length. Like a lot of beloved, very successful bands, I had great respect for them but couldn't quite make the hurdle to meet them all the way. But, the addition of Jimmy Herring last year brought me a lot closer to springing the distance. Herring is a musician's musician, a technical whiz capable of gut churning power chords and angular weirdness. The very first time I saw Aquarium Rescue Unit open the H.O.R.D.E. festival it was love. At the palatial Paramount I had the amazing good fortune to be front row, feet away from Herring and Bell. Face to face with their conjuring, watching music ooze from them like sweat or dreams or a fever you can see, well, I made that leap.

While I can't identify the vast majority of their catalog, it's pretty damn good based on what they offered on this no longer sleepy Thursday night in Oakland. They are considerably heavier than I think they get credit for, and it made me want to hip my Black Sabbath buddies to them. Even when they lighten up, there was always Dave Schools shaking something dark over the proceedings. Like a lover that takes you with sureness and strength, Schools' bass worked the room hard, loosening chakras and causing us to dance ourselves damp. Yeah, the whole band is responsible for the sound but the catalyst, the enzyme that wets their whistles is Schools, and bless the man for doing it.

Hermann & Harrison (Talking Heads) :: 09.27 by J. Miller
It's when it comes time to identify particular numbers, to compare and contrast them to past glories (or flubs for that matter) that I falter. I don't know the secret handshakes or the intricacies of Everyday Companion. Instead of Skull & Bones it's the hidden corridors of "Barstools and Dreamers" that worry me. Just based on the expressions of those around me, I could tell their faithful were enjoying themselves but this wasn't epic Panic to them. For me, a neophyte with a fresh hard-on for their sweet stuff, it was delightful rock & roll heaven. I could pretend some distance, lie about how it made me shake what my mama gave me until I felt faint, but why? Instead, I'll sing their praises for being a bit shambling, wallowing in dissonance and stray notes, sharp flash left on the edges of their metal body, torn away in the thrashing and streamlined tangents. It's a wonder they hold it all together, always making room for so many hands and active minds, even embracing fellow travelers like Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) who joined them late in the second set with a possessed smile that said, "I just gotta get a piece of this!" And it made me smile inside to see beautiful, octopus limbed Wally Ingram back in the saddle for a few minutes during the percussion spotlight.

Only after these guests had wallowed in the sonic muck did they receive an introduction. For the music always seems to come first, living in the forefront of all their thinking. Anytime you tuned into a single part you found someone pouring on steam or smartly laying back in the cut, doing his utmost to serve something larger than one man. And it is this dedication to music in the cosmic, archetypal sense that made me finally and totally fall hard for these Southern boys, singing along to the encore - one I recognized from numerous bootlegs passed my way over the years – in a voice cracked by good times, "In my mind I was a child and it felt good!" Ain't life grand indeed.

09/27/07 Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA
Set 1: Going Out West, Disco > Diner > No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature, I'm Not Alone > Who Do You Belong To?, Christmas Katie > Little Kin > Action Man
Set 2: Traveling Light > Barstools and Dreamers > Machine > Radio Child > Casa Del Grillo > Holden Oversoul > Life During Wartime* > Jam* > Drums* > Jack > Chainsaw City
E: Ain't Life Grand
* with Wally Ingram on percussion and Jerry Harrison on Keys
[Jam after Life During Wartime without J.B.]

Continue reading for Andy Tennille's coverage of Night Two in Oakland...

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