Words by: Stratton Lawrence | Images by: John Zara
Widespread Panic :: 04.29.08 :: Township Auditorium :: Columbia, SC
In late September 2006, in what happened to be my first interview with a musician at my new job writing for the alt-weekly in Charleston, S.C., I nervously spoke with Dave Schools as he prepared for Widespread Panic's first tour with their new guitarist, Jimmy Herring. He talked about the ease of transitioning an old friend into the band, how Jimmy was re-teaching them their own songs they hadn't played in years, and about the way he "turned things on their side" to take the spaces between songs to entirely new places. "We'd like to still be rocking when we're 60," said Schools.
If last Tuesday's rock & roll throwdown at the Township Auditorium is any indication, Panic has no plans for a sunset ride anytime soon. From the moment Herring dropped the opening riff of "Henry Parsons Died," the band laid out a clear reminder that with Widespread there is no weeknight, just Saturday night after Saturday night.
"Walkin'" culminated in an uncharacteristic shredding guitar buildup, then eased right into the guaranteed "it's-gonna-be-a-party-tonight" "Blackout Blues." Jojo Hermann's hands appeared to have an epileptic fit during his solo, showing the crowd that his boogie woogie, play-it-like-a-drum style of ivory tickling dirtiness is still on the ups. The "Goin' down to New Orleans before I lose my mind" line had folks cheering and me a bit envious I couldn't hop on the tour train for the smoking Jazz Fest show (read about it here) that was to follow two days later.
But, Panic was determined to set South Carolina on fire first. After the only down tempo number of the evening, "Free Somehow," Sunny Ortiz steered the band into a first-rate "Wondering." However, the first set's highlight was the "Walk On" > "Maggot Brain" > "Tie Your Shoes" sandwich that followed. Schools ensured that "Walk On" was a full-on funky dance party, and I caught myself pumping the air with my fist, throwing elbows and getting down like an 18-year-old on his first mushroom trip on the lawn at Raleigh. But since every night is Saturday, no one around here has to grow up.
Herring took the song somewhere off the coast of Neptune, just before a quiet segue into "Maggot Brain," which was exactly what the doctor ordered and quite possibly the song Herring was born to play. As the band built behind him, Herring crept way back into the sky before handing the reigns to Hermann's organ, then onto the high-speed flurry of "Tie Your Shoes." When the riff dropped into the chords two minutes in, the floors of Township literally bounced several inches with the weight of a crowd unable to contain themselves. That frenzy led into a mostly subdued "Space Wrangler" and a much needed respite ("Alright, two shakes!" yelled JB) to grab a beer and wonder wide-eyed what was still to come.
Widespread Panic :: 04.29 :: Columbia, SC
Second set opener "Three Candles" may be the most Herring-suited song from the recent Panic renaissance. In its spacey transitions, his guitar rang out fiddle-like, then like a pedal steel. Over nearly five minutes, the band played with the anticipatory energy in the room, bringing it almost to silence - one of those moments unique to Panic where you know an explosion is coming in a matter of seconds.
"Ride Me High" was the Class-A explosive of choice. Hermann spoiled the secret moments before Herring ripped into the unmistakable J.J. Cale riff and the cozy confines of the Township again shook like the floor might cave in. From that moment on, the show was pure, solid rock. A scorching five-minute "Give" dropped right into a meandering "Stop-Go," then into the dirty riffs of "Blight." One overzealous fan in the balcony appeared to lose control in his violent, excited flailing, prompting School's to order him, "Don't play on that left stage man! You'll fuckin' fall and bust your ass!" JB got into the adult language, dropping a "Caught an illness that was motherfuckin' viral" into a particularly raunchy "downward spiral" of "Blight."
After a fairly standard drum break, Schools smoothly transitioned them back into "Stop-Go." "Imitation Leather Shoes" continued the heavy-hitting, with Herring managing about 36 notes every 3.5 seconds, before a quick crowd pleasing "Ophelia."
John Bell :: 04.29 :: Columbia, SC
Closing song "North" was another energetic highlight of the show, and a good call despite closing the first set of Savannah six nights before with the same tune. It's one Jerry Joseph track that's hard to tire of, with the transitions between the chorus and verses ringing perfectly at this show. JB had a few thousand backup singers for the chorus: "I don't know / The sun it burns my eyes / But I don't really care." Drummer Todd Nance, Hermann and Herring all jammed together into a few minutes of big-grin crowd-screaming.
Encore "Pickin' Up the Pieces" fit the ticket nicely, bringing the energy down to sway a bit, catch our breath and gear up for a super funky "Weight of the World." With Hermann's shuffling and School's thumping echoing through our heads, the crowd slowly made its way out the mouth of the relatively tiny, Tabernacle-esque venue in downtown Columbia, back towards hotels, the road to Louisiana, or in my case, a pillow on the floor and an early morning hustle back to Chucktown. Fortunately, no one at the office seemed to notice that I'd had a Saturday night sort-of-evening.
04.29.08 :: Township Auditorium :: Columbia, SC
Set I: Henry Parsons Died, Walkin' (For Your Love) > Blackout Blues, Free Somehow, Wondering > Walk On > Maggot Brain > Tie Your Shoes, Space Wrangler
Set II: Three Candles, Ride Me High, Give, Stop-Go > Blight > Drums > Stop-Go > Imitation Leather Shoes, Ophelia, North
E: Pickin' Up The Pieces, Weight Of The World
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