Back to Merriweather Post Pavillion for my first Panic show of the summer. My last show was the tail end of an exhausting, sleep-deprived "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" adventure to New Orleans at Memorial Auditorium. So it really felt like I hadn't seen them since New Year's and when the lights went down and the audience roared the twinge in my belly was real.

"Going Out West," "Disco," "Give." The band started with a stuttering beginning to an all-in-all awkward setlist fueled entirely by the dynamic bass work of David A Schools. From the get-go it was apparent that the band was sticking to concise tunes and forgoing extended jamming for pure bombastic energy. The crowd felt it as each song seemed to bundle pockets of energy at the front of the stage that then rippled through the crowd. The music might not have been anything to speak of, but the audience felt like I did, overwhelmed with the volume and sheer power of the band.

"Pieces" followed and was the clearest example of the oddity of the setlist. Just when the band seemed ready to erupt like Mt Etna onto the scattering Sicilians, they brought it down. The "Pleas" that followed had that explosive jam, but the momentum had been lost. Without a doubt "Pleas" > "Jack" was the highlight of the first set, in my eyes. Although the set-up of Pleas was less-than-perfectly played, it soon surrendered to a brilliant jam. Most of the time Pleas gives way to a jam that very much sticks to the themes of the main song. Saturday night the offspring betrayed it's parents, with the jam twisting away into darker, edgier regions. Schools lead the way as he did for the entire first set. Pounding out twisted, melodic lines, he urged the band to follow along. Convinced, Houser and Nance picked up steam and somersaulted riff after riff into the gorgeous Marlyand night.

Finally, Dave grabbed the reins again and plunked a special-effects-laden summer blockbuster of a segue into "Jack." Schools always seems to relish playing at Merriweather, oftentimes dosing the music with Grateful Dead teases and psychedelic leads. Saturday night was no different and the descent into "Jack" was a prime example. I got the feeling that Dave was the only band member who was really "on" - he was the lead dog pulling the pack one way and then the other, only hoping that the rest of the band would obey his leadership.

"Jack" was wonderful but another weird placement to complement an already awkward set from the beginning. The set ended in a fairly mundane manner. "1x1" > "Wondering" was typical of the entire show. Pounding energy shooting from the stage to the back of the lawn but nothing to catch your ears off guard. "Stop-Go" was wonderful as it tends to be and "Porch" was short and bland.

All in all a very standard set that seemed to be minced and put in a strange order. Some high points, but what Panic set doesn't have those? Out and out average and I was my average, giddy and sweaty self come set break.

Second set started with the second of what would be a 3-too-many four Jojo songs at Merriweather - "Big Woolly Mammoth." High-octane rock and roll - Panic knows how to play it, and the audience loves to get down to it. The jam afterwards was short and clunky and powered it's way, via Schools once again, into a surprising "Dear Mr. Fantasy." At this point you could really feel that second set volume increase as the blisters started to form on the eardrums. Houser ripped gaping holes in the crowd with sizzling licks and the rest of the band poured heaping gobs of thunder into them. As he seems to have done the last few times I have seen this song, Schools plunged his basslines into the "Hey Jude" coda as the band climaxed to a head. Once again echoing the Grateful Dead and their frequent trips to Merriweather Post, Dave seemed almost ready to take the Beatles on full-force but the wonderment was short-lived as Jojo was at the helm once again and a tired segue into "Greta." This was the low-point of the show as the band meandered into a long and pointless lapse of jamming. Unfortunately length and volume are no substitute for quality and this "Greta" showed it. None of the passion and inventiveness from the Pleas jam in the first set was there and the band suffered from it's overall flatness up to that point.

The denoument into "Driving Song" was long and cumbersome still. "Driving" was great to hear - JB sounded wonderful cackling the lyrics over pounding drums and guitar. "Little Lilly" back into "Driving" was another highlight. JB was in control for this sandwich - with his voice leading the way and allowing the band to crystallize and the sound to sharpen in the ampitheater. The jam out of Lilly had hints of excellence and was one of the few departures from the throbbing, fueling rock tangents to a more subtle, composed sound. The band quickly returned to the loud and nasty theme with an unbelievably pitched "Love Tractor." The call and response with the audience from the onset of the show back in the first set returned as the energy waves rippled from the stage to the lawn and back again. It felt so good to be a part of the frenzied, Panic crowd once again, blood dripping from my ears and sweat pouring from my skin.

The letdown into Drums was just that with very little experimentation or extension that sometimes resides in that little niche. Drums was shorter than it usually feels and the jam picked up very quickly into a "Bear's Gone Fishing" theme. Post-drums was the usual brilliant Widespread Panic with "BGF" > "Red Hot Mama." Bear's was standardly excellent with a nice ending that featured JB rapping a bit. It appeared that the band might launch into something a bit more experimental at that point, but as they finally reached RHM, I realized that JB had been muttering lines from "Red Hot Mama" to bring a little twist to the segue. "Red" > "Red with Hot Mama" > "Beans Cookin'." Clever. Nothing too amazing in there, but just the thing to keep the audience at full tilt to the very end.

"This Part of Town" is a song that I enjoy but don't find to work very well in a live setting. Particularly in the hollowness of an ampitheather, the subtlety of Houser's playing and singing is swallowed by the empty sound that plagued the entire show (from where I was sitting at least). "Mr Soul" fit in better with that aspect, allowing the band to click into gear one more time with balls-to-the-walls gusto.

The show was a hair below your typical Widespread Panic show, so I give it a 4.5 on the Ned-O-Matic scale. I had a blast and am now in full Panic mode as the band makes it way to NYC. See you at the Beacon!

Aaron Stein
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

Widespread Panic
07.14.01 | Merriweather Post Pavilion | Columbia, MD
Set 1: Goin' Out West, Disco, Give, Pickin' Up The Pieces, Pleas > Jack > 1 x 1, Wondering, Stop-Go > Porch Song
Set 2: Big Wooly Mammoth > Dear Mr. Fantasy, Greta > Driving Song > Little Lilly > Driving Song > Love Tractor > Drums > Bear's Gone Fishin' > Red Hot Mama, Red Beans
E: This Part Of Town, Mr. Soul

[Published on: 7/16/01]

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