Reviews by Aaron Stein

WOW! Panic in NYC for a three-night run. There are few things that could get me more excited. High anticipation, but the question remained, would this be a week for the ages or just a string of three everyday Widespread shows. Got to our seats just in time for the beginning of the show (right on time - nice work!) - let the games begin.

07.17.01 | Beacon Theater | New York City

Set I: Let's Get Down To Business > Action Man > The Waker > Blue Indian, Weak Brain Narrow Mind, Rebirtha > Old Joe, Space Wrangler > Imitation Leather Shoes

Set II: All Time Low, Pigeons > Arleen > Diner > Blackout > Drums > Guilded Splinters, North > Travelin' Light

Encore: Gimme > Cream Puff War

The beginning of the first set was eerily similar in tone to the Merriweather show I caught on Saturday. From LGDTB through Weak Brain the show was very stale. Song, song, song - no elaboration, no decoration, straight Panic. The crowd's welcomed intensity did little to maintain any momentum contained within each song. Like struggling to keep a fire going in the rain, the band blew on the embers as much as they could, but continually fell flat. My first time seeing Action Man with lyrics - I like it, potential, but I don't think it's ready yet. JB seemed tentative from the get-go and the band did little to encourage him. The Waker seemed the wrong choice - just like in Maryland, the place was ready to explode, not quite ready for a breather, and they bring it down. The end of the song twisted into a Waker-ish jam that built into possible potential. But Schools shifted gears drastically, bringing tempo and key along with him and all but killing the mood. The jam actually shifted like this 2 or 3 times in a very short amount of time until landing roughly in Blue Indian.

It wouldn't be until Rebirtha that the band actually got going. I will mark this as the actual beginning of the run for me - the first five songs were the prelude... at least I hope they were. Warmed up and primed, the dripping audience roared as the neo-funk of Dave's bassline hit the P.A. and the band immersed itself in Rebirtha. At this point the Beacon was HOT - literally. Up in the Loge section I could feel the haze of body heat and sweat from the audience rising and swallowing. As Rebirtha undulated over it's climactic composed sections, my dancing was swimming in a cloud of perspiration. It was like the entire audience was sweating into this huge fog and, as they breathed in each other's warmth, communally locked into each other. Brilliantly peaking before the last vocal section, the audience rippled with the energy of the band. Finally launching into the jam section, the fire had taken and flames of music scorched the steaming crowd.

The jam was quintessential Panic - although the lead tossed around from Schools to Houser to Hermann back to Schools, it was a six man effort. Each instrument locked into a simple groove. Meshing with the other five their power was enhanced and continually reached explosive heights. When the crowd could finally take no more of the incessant pounding, Dave took over and simmered the jam into a flowing solo. Coming almost to a bass whisper, silence ensued and JB stepped up to the mic. In what has to be the strangest beginning to Old Joe ever, he sort of howled a bit, seemingly unsure of what he was going to sing. After his "Ooooh oooh ooooold joe...." he was tight though. The sound finally was dialed in and Bell was crystal clear and belting it out strongly.

Wrangler was a climactic masterpiece that brought back that energy from Rebirtha. Loud and powerful, it's always a crowd pleaser. I would have to say, though, that it was a below average Space Wrangler that segued into the evil, crunching Imitation quite nicely. A great way to end a strong-finishing set.

All Time Low picked up right where ILS ended - the two almost seemed to segue with their ear-splitting dominance. The throbbing continued with the Nance-driven opening to Pigeons. One of my favorite tunes - oh, jubilation! I've definitely heard better versions - Schools was not the usual nasty-ass mofo I'm used to last night - but this song never disappoints. The second set was cooking and the Arleen > Diner that followed were perfect complements to the sweltering precedent of ATL>Pigeons.

Mikey and Jojo were the main thrust of the music by this point. Perhaps it was just because I was sitting all the way on the left, but these guys really stood out above the rest of the band. I deride Jojo's playing enough that I figure I should commend when he catches my ear. His brilliance was manifest exclusively when he was on the organ. Whirling out ribbons of music, he wrapped the jams with a bow to gussie them up a little for our listening pleasure. Mikey was sizzling as he almost always is - really taking charge and bringing life to the Arleen and Diner. Manipulating his strings with strict repetition, he seemed to be playing several tempos at once. Interlocking patterns which sashayed around drums, bass and keyboards seemingly individually and keeping the less-than-tight unit on track.

Unfortunately, the fun was not meant to last. Blackout seized the reins and I headed out to the lobby bar. Sipping on a whiskey I heard the "song" wind into Drums without incident and decided to take my time. I returned to my seat just as Dave had taken the stage. It seemed a make-it-or-break it point in the show. I wiped the sweat off my brow and summoned up any energy I might have had left in the reserves. The band rejoined Dave physically and musically - taking his bubbling bass work to heart and transforming into a heavy groove. Building and then falling as one, Panic seemed ready to roll.

But the momentum could not sustain them. The jam seemed to be going anywhere but towards Gilded, but that is where it ended up. Without strength or conviction or the tell-tale slide riff, JB slept-walked the band through one of the worst versions of Gilded Splinters I think I've ever heard.

The air was out of the balloon and it was spinning weakly through the air and finally collapsed onto the ground with North > Traveling Light. These were two adequate rockers, but were played with a standard going-through-the-motions energy-level. Still, I boogied my ass off as I had all night, sucking all the pleasure I could out of what little material I was given to work with.

Drenched in sweat and smiling drunkenly, I joined the rest of the crowd in the overwhelming applause. I've been seeing Panic in NYC for 6 years and I think I've missed only one show here since 4/95 - usually the crowd is weak and the energy substandard. The Beacon was rocking as hard last night as it had at the last Allmans and Phil Lesh shows I saw there. Widespread Panic finally has a home in New York. Regardless, Dave egged the audience on, seemingly unmoved by the roar of appreciation.

We were well-rewarded with a beautiful Gimme to open the encore. The first time it's been played all tour and a true gem of songwriting. JB was finally well on top of his game. One of the more touching moments I've seen on the Panic stage happened as he opened the song crooning: "Give me a hand here, Michael." As he sung, basked in a spotlight, he looked straight over at Michael Houser with a loving gaze saved for brothers and best friends. Combined with his voice and the music, it gave me the chills. A perfect rendition of the tune. Cream Puff War ended the show appropriately - a simple romp that hits the energy peak and appeases the crowd's desires for something "special."

Had it's moments, I had a fricking blast, but I'm hoping it's just the warm up. They didn't waste any huge moments on a subpar show, so I'm giddily looking forward to tonight and tomorrow giving this show a 4 (out of 10) on the Ned-O-Matic.

What a difference a day makes! Bouncing back like only they can, Widespread Panic brought their rhythmic wrath onto Gotham with a vengeance last night. Taking Broadway by storm, they were a complete hit - forget about the eyes - there wasn't a dry EAR in the place.

07.18.01 | Beacon Theater | New York City

Set I: Contentment Blues > Sometimes, Walk On, Impossible > Barstools and Dreamers, Papa's Home > Tallboy > Papa's Home, Climb To Safety

Set II: Don't Tell The Band, Chilly Water > Flat Foot Flewzy > Chilly Water, Vacation > Give > Drums > Pusherman > Big Woolly Mammoth > Conrad

E: City of Dreams, Chunk of Coal

The show started with a half-full venue (odd how they are insisting on starting right at 8pm - I like it, but get to your seats people!) and JB stating a timid "hello" to the sparse and hustling crowd. Then he mumbles: "This is the probably the only blues song... the only REAL blues song we ever wrote" and the band dropped the first crunching chords of Contentment onto the crowd. Finally a little mixing it up to speak of. The crowd energy was dead at this point as the band nailed each section of the winding blues perfectly. The sound was right on target from where I was listening right from the first notes.

From these auspicious beginnings, the band build itself up one of the more formidable sets you can imagine. Contentment > Sometimes, Walk On, Impossible... Sandwiching in two well-played covers, ranging from fIREHOSE to Neil Young, between two of the more intensifying originals the band erected a structure with purpose.

If you were to draw a line signifying the direction and thrust of a set, Tuesday night's would have been a jagged pattern with sharp peaks where the band was clicking and falling into muddiness. Wednesday night, on the other hand, would be characterized by a straight smooth line that keeps rising from beginning to end. It is amazing how much the overall construction of a setlist can affect how well a show is pulled off.

Walk On was one notable point on that line - Dave's bass line bopped the band into "happy mode" as they delivered a killer version of the Young cover. Feeding one song into the next, Impossible built with Nance thundering away at the kit. With each change, the energy on stage would build just a bit more. The jam afterwards was no extended meltdown, rather it was a concise voyage onto the next port of call on the setlist... Barstools. The segue was extremely smooth and caught me completely off guard. My favorite Panic song stuck in the middle of an already smoking first set, coming out of Impossible... I was a happy man. Like the Impossible before it, the Barstools was not nearly the best version I've heard but that isn't to say that it was "bad." Schools flavored the middle section jamming with some slapping funk and the band seemed to click it up one more notch. Straight into the end section, post jam, JB romped the band through an especially twisted rap. "Babies don't know any words yet..."

The entire show had this feeling like each song would flow itself into the next, not necessarily with segues, but with temperament and execution. Like Ali using the "rope-a-dope" to artfully tire his opponents, Panic seemed to be staying in the game with well-crafted setlist and adequate jams that seemed to build in complexity and energy as time went on. Instead of bopping the audience up and down and losing any momentum from each step along the way, they slowly augmented and tightened and cranked. This reached a head in the first set when the opening thumps of Papa's Home hit the drums.

Bundling all that they had succeed with already in the set, the band seemed ready to venture forth into new ground. As everything else was all night, the Papa's Home > Tall Boy > Papa's Home was placed perfectly. While a Tall Boy to open the show might have brought groans from me, slapping that meat after Papa's Home is nothing to complain about. This sandwich was a fable whose moral harkened the overall show - "slow and steady wins the race." Starting out like a tortoise, Papa's ambled through verse after verse with the band picking up steam behind him. Finally reaching the brimming point - and summing up the excitement felt in New York in the days before the Beacon run with "the dog's been wagging it's tail for days... Papa's coming home..." - Sunny bubbled the band over the top. He took over on the timbales and as the rest of the band locked into a jam, Ortiz continued his percussive assault through wave after wave of instrumental insanity.

The shift into Tall Boy was not perfect, but it was keen and was just the spanking the audience needed to finally erupt with ecstasy. Arms waving, vocal chords quivering and bodies in deep boogie, the crowd responded to Tall Boy in spades. It was Jojo's birthday, after all, and this would be his first chance to share his personal holiday with the Beacon. With this sandwich in motion, I realized how the band had played the audience perfectly through the first set - sensual massage > taunting foreplay > orgiastic explosion. Each song may not have been extended to it's fullest potential, but they were each pulled off nearly perfectly. More importantly, they were placed nearly perfectly.

The jam ensuing from Tall Boy was again, short but mutated quickly back into a Papa's themed drive. Jojo hit those tell-tale chords, but the band seemed unwilling to settle for a less-than-exploratory ending this time. Pushing away from the Papa's coda once more, the band hit all 6 cylinders and fell into a throbbing jam. This would be the first of several occasions where the playing got placed in the "over the top" category in my book. The band hit a stagnant point where they all were just milling about. Then they slowly locked into place and intensified the fight. It was as if they were musically discussing "where should we go next with this" and then agreeing on a direction taking off with a full head. It is a true testament to how tight this band is. Each member playing their own thing but locked into each other tightly. There is a reason they call Widespread the six-headed monster - it is because JB is strumming the drums, Sunny is tapping the bass and Schools is heavily slapping the clavinet. One man soloing over a rhythm section is one thing, six men immersed in a full assault of sololess sonic slings is another. They say "you either get it or you don't" - a few moments Wednesday night they were deep into a "getting it" jam where when you lined up each 6 men in your head you were overwhelmed with emotive energy. The '>' between Tall Boy and Papa's was one of these moments.

Finally Dave, Houser and Jojo locked into the end section and Papa's came to a overwhelmingly satisfying finish. Climb to Safety shuffled up to close out the set. Personally, I am not a huge fan of this song, but once again, placement is almost everything. A set that built and built from the get-go has to reach a climax. The Papa's sandwich was a musical masterpiece that had the audience's brains in the clouds. Now was the time to invite them back in and Climb To Safety became an audience participation song as the crowd roared along in sing-along fashion. In a sense, we became one with the band and that is what it is all about. The six band members meshing together is a metaphor for the larger "Widespread Panic" - that communal spirit that is lingering behind every collective roar at every climactic point in every jam. 6 guys from Georgia, 3500 sweaty fools in the Beacon Theater, 20,000 die-hards in Philips Arena - we are all locked into the "jam" together.

WHEW! What a set!! The band returned from break and Dave motioned to Jojo who had been given a birthday cake. Schools counted it off and the entire theater erupted with a nice "Happy Birthday" rendition for Mr. Hermann. Cool moment again.

Don't Tell The Band was like a continuation of the set break. A breather to catch up, regenerate brain cells and prepare for future mind probings. I will hold opinion on this song until I am more familiar with it, but similarly to Action Man (w/ lyrics) it seems that this may not be entirely ready for live performance. In truth, I think that a few Houser songs do not come across that well on stage - whether I like them or not is one thing (I do for the most part), but both This Part of Town and Don't Tell the Band (and to an extent, the Waker and others) have very little oomph outside the studio. They always seem to stand alone in a setlist encapsulated in their own bubble and inert to the rest of the show.

But that bubble burst almost an instant after the end of DTTB - CHILLY WATER. Starting off the second MONSTER sandwich of the night, Dave Schools was finally bombing NYC. Fuzzy monster bass drops filled the Beacon's cavern and fuelled the explosion of the band. The first set was a slowly expanding experience - the second set picked up (after a short interlude) right where that left off and managed to maintain the high standard of intensified excellence right on down to the end of the show.

Chilly > FFF > Chilly. WOW! WOW! WOW! That's all I can say about that. I thought that the #1 on the sandwich menu was a tasty choice, but it looks like I'll be deciding on the #2 to feed my ears. Chilly was it's usual razor sharp self - the band was so tight at this point, perhaps as unified as I've heard them in a long while. Flat Foot Flewzy flowed straight from the shaking quasi-climax of Chilly and took off running. Schools was eruptive on the vocals and midway through Mikey caught my full blown attention with some ear-blistering leads. Sometime Flewzy has it and sometimes it doesn't.... Wednesday night the band threw a hurting on this tune, positively pushing it onto the audience with that "Panic-messy" precision. Jojo took a whirl on the clavinet that had the audience howling in appreciation. It was a minute of the most electrifying clav I've heard from Hermann's hands, causing Dave to hoot: "Hey, it was Jojo's choice" as he fell back into the last verse.

It was obvious that the band was enjoying every minute of the spectacle they were creating as much as the crowd was. Jojo's birthday celebration was a true party where everyone was invited. I couldn't point to one band member and say that they stood out or were lacking in any way. I can honestly say that each man held up more than his share of that heavy Widespread load. Cooperative and loving, each member complimented and complemented each other musically. They were all at the top of their game and it was one of those win-win situations for the band and the crowd.

And the jamming really showed how ON they were. The goo that oozed out of Flewzy is reason enough to seek the tapes of this show. Like that moment coming back into Papa's, Chilly surfaced briefly coming out of FFF. And again, the band fell into a short stagnant "feeling out" period. When they emerged, though, they topped even the utter insanity from that first set gem. Entering a jam that I liken to southern rock/techno - the band set down sheets of tonal and rhythmic layers. Each layer built upon each other fabrication humming complexity from tacit simplicity. The result was a hypnotic groove that set aside all preconceptions about what a "jam" should be. No egos, no leading, no following - the band ebbed back and forth like a flock of birds that seems gracefully fluid as it shifts directions in the sky. It is moments like these right now that frustrate me because I don't think I can (nor will probably the tapes) capture an iota of the essence of what was going on at certain moments during Wednesday's show.

It was one of those moments where it seemed certain that they were going into Drums, despite how early it was in the set, that I was a touch surprised when they finally brought it back into the end of Chilly. THESE GUYS ARE GOOD!

We got a much needed session of rest and relaxation following the drenching climax of Chilly Water with Vacation. Although the volume and pace were brought down considerably, I still consider this another leg up on that straight line we had been traveling on all night. Perfectly placed once again the band waxed and waned through the vocal section nicely. One complaint I have - the sound was GREAT all night, really really good... but I could barely hear Houser's vocals. He mumbles through his lyrics enough to have his mic turned so low. I know the words, so I had little problem enjoying it, but I feel bad for those New Yorker's who can't get a taste of Mikey's lyrical work.

Yadda, yadda, yadda... the JAM! Oh lord, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water - Panic grabs your leg and PULLS YOU IN! Houser absolutely sizzled as he set off a gruesome triangle of music. It was Mikey, Dave and Jojo at each point with the other three broadly filling in the middle ground. The guitar work was phenomenally brilliant. As his "solo" wound around, Dave picked it up and seemed to lob control over to Jojo. Houser kept his intensity going as the electric piano groove set in on top marvelously. The trio powered it's way to a downright funky rendering of a always sweet, but rarely this extensive, Vacation jam. It was one of those nights where everything was "coming up Milhouse" as they say - and Vacation was as good as I've ever heard. Nailed it and then some and then plummetted over the cliff back into the rolling waves of the slow, relaxing main riff. Just beautiful.

Nice organ outro and then BANG! Nance regained the full-lilt energy from Chilly Water with one simple hit on his kit and Give was suddenly showering over us. Again a song that will suffer based on when and where it is played over the course of a show and, once again, near-perfection. I find that Give really has a range - it can be a long, meltdown or a four-minute burst of energy.... or it can be in between, which is where I would categorize last night's version. Certainly a powerful way to cinch up the pre drums sweat- fest.

Post drums - SCHOOLS! Where have you been all my life? Just mean, nasty, ugly bass playing. He got to a point where he was putting many, many guitar players out there to shame. Brilliant use of the effects as he picked his way through a testicle twisting bass and drums. Jojo sauntered saucily back onto his stool and the dual was afoot. Like they did very often when Jojo first started featuring the clavinet back in '96, it was a Schools vs. Hermann blowout. Back and forth in pulsified lobbing, the space funk ensued until they melted into a 3 man cosmic jam with Dave, Jojo and Todd holding an electonica-esque cymbal-tinged drum backing.

I turned to my buddy who was pretty much only going to be content if they played Pusherman last night and said "This is where a very, very good show can go completely over the top." No sooner had I finished this sentence than he, my wife and I simultaneously caught the first smidgen of the tell-tall shuffling drum beat of the Mayfield classic. Check and mate... over the top.

Pusherman... what to say, what to say? JB was on - both with his not-quite-Curtis-Mayfield-sweet-but-still-pretty-damn-sweet vocals and his chopping rhythm guitar; Schools was on - thumping out the lead bass line as well as interspersed moments of funkalicity; Nance was on; Sunny was on; Jojo was on; Houser was ON! It's one of those moments where the cliches actually fit the music that was played (take it from this cranky, critical curmudgeon) - it was "smoking;" it was "the heat;" it was "SICK!"

This would round out the trio of bright spots on that line they had started drawing back with the simple cackling about chicken back at 8pm. Point 1 - Papa's sandwich; Point 2 - Chilly Sandwich (>Vacation of course); Point 3 - Pusherman. Like a nuclear power plant meltdown, the band had reached critical mass and was on it's way to China through the earth of my brain. Perhaps there was a short moment, a very, very short moment, where the jam had gotten too far away from themselves - the rest was ear-splitting bliss.

There was another one of those moments where all instrument or band-member biases were thrown out the fire-escape door and the six men became a liquidy, gooey mess once again. Another hypnotic, trance of a groove that shot through my blood like a wonderful drug. Intravenous Panic put me into a hazed state. Imagine someone sitting on a swing - you're pushing this person in order to make them go higher and faster. This will only work if you push at just the right moment - that is resonance. If you add energy at the precise moment in the arc of the swing, you will intensify the height each time. Now imagine 6 fellas from Georgia all swinging at the same time and all pushing each other at the same time - and all hitting each other right at that moment to resonate, to elevate, to intensify. This is what Widespread Panic does, and when they are on, there is nothing more wonderful than listening to it happen. This is what they did over and over again Wednesday night. This is what they did in the ooey, gooey middle of Pusherman.

The band had reached a point where only some flat out rock and roll would suffice. There was no way they could outdo themselves musically, perhaps the only way to improve the night would be via setlist, but at that point it didn't matter a stitch to me. Big Wooly Mammoth - yet AGAIN a song that is so position sensitive - couldn't have been a more perfect choice. Jojo's birthday, the band locked in, just pure heated rollicking guitar rock. The "communal boogie" was on as the audience raised their arms in rejoice. Conrad to close was another great choice, in my book. Probably a little more timid than some versions, this reviewer has few complaints with ANYTHING the band played last night.

City of Dreams was predictable at best, although they sounded great. Chunk of Coal was semi-predictable, we knew Jojo would have one more whirl at inciting the audience. No worries, no complaints. I can't believe I get to do this one more time. No way I was going to work today, I will see you at the Beacon still beaming from this 8.0 on the Ned-O-Matic.

[Published on: 8/2/01]

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