Words & Images by: John Zara
Widespread Panic :: 07.26.08 :: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre :: Charlotte, NC
Just under two years ago, I got a text message from a good friend telling me that Widespread Panic had gotten Jimmy Herring to take the reins on lead guitar. Fans everywhere rejoiced. Word spread like wildfire that Herring had joined the band. Since then, Panic has rolled full steam ahead without missing a beat.
A new era of Widespread Panic is clearly upon us. But as we all know, this isn't the first time that Herring has been called on to fill legendary shoes. He's proved his worth playing with the Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends and The Other Ones/The Dead. By no means has Widespread Panic replaced that lingering lead we won't forget, but they've grown into something totally new.
Their summer tour demonstrated that Panic has evolved into one hell of a beast. Herring has found a way to weave his accuracy and lightening-fast speed with the band's raw energy. After a slew of killer festival appearances (Rothbury, All Good and Bonnaroo), Panic was sure to bring the fire for the tour closer in Charlotte. As always, they did not disappoint.
Cheers erupted from one patch of fans that triggered another and another. Before I could look up, most of the audience had raised their $11 beers and flask-made bourbon drinks, greeting Panic as they took stage. Right out of the gate, keyboardist JoJo Hermann graced the crowd with his vocals on what would be a fairly standard "Blackout Blues." Nonetheless, the party had started.
After that warm-up, "Walkin'" set up a sing-a-long "And It Stoned Me," where Herring showed his ability to slow it down a bit, a touch more graceful than usual. This was the calm before the storm. The storm's name was "Wonderin'" > "Rock." This was the first moment in the show where Herring's fingers ripped loose on the fretboard. About three-quarters through "Wonderin'," Dave Schools brought his thunderous thumping bass into perfect harmony with Herring. "Rock" was the ideal song for John Bell's trademark raspy vocals. The slide guitar and JB's voice made this tune reminiscent of the Tom Waits classic "Goin' Out West."
|Dave Schools :: 07.26|
Next up was a mellow and laid back "Pickin' Up The Pieces," which gave everyone in the crowd a moment to settle. "Holden Oversoul" > "Henry Parsons Died" > "Action Man" was a tasty treat just before set break. "Holden" achieved new heights. Just when I thought the band was about to kick back to the intro riff, Herring continued on a tear. Finally coming back to Earth, JoJo took over with some funky ivory moves that only made way for another Herring wailing. That segued straight into Schools dropping the booming chords of the Bloodkin tune, "Henry Parsons Died." Herring took this one to a climax after about four to five minutes of a mind-boggling number of notes. Moving quickly into "Action Man," Herring still hadn't let up, but JoJo one-upped him with a throwdown, as his fingers walked all over the keys.
"Let's hear it for Mr. DJ Logic, keeping you guys lubricated. We love him," exclaimed Schools after the set break. Logic stayed onstage as Panic started the second set. On deck was Jerry Joseph's "Chainsaw City." Panic gave DJ Logic his fair share of time on this one, and he held his own with a solid solo mid-song.
"All Time Low" set up the ass kicking to follow: "Life During Wartime" > "Chilly Water," "Machine" > "Barstools and Dreamers," "Fishwater" > "Drums" > "Fishwater," "Surprise Valley" > "Tallboy."
I was lucky enough to see the first show that Panic covered "Life During Wartime." At that point, George McConnell was on lead guitar, and since then the boys have really polished it up. "This ain't no party," they said, but it sure felt like one. At this point, all six members were in sync as the air filled with electricity. I thought Schools might blow his amp when the first notes of "Chilly Water" dropped. The crowd went nuts for this heavily anticipated song.
|The Panic Faithful :: 07.26|
Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz went off on a nice conga/hand percussion solo that eventually eased to Herring. JB let out a soulful scream that could have raised the dead. Schools joined on the harmony vocals, as Herring crept the guitar rhythm, just waiting to jump in.
Right on time was "Machine" > "Barstools," where Schools managed to make the low end rattle my chest. Herring stayed in bounds for the first few minutes while drummer Todd Nance held down a rock-solid beat as the band crawled into "Barstools." A beautiful segue as the tempo began to rise, Herring made his guitar wail and cry as JB made a haunting sound emerge from nowhere. This went on for a solid 14-minutes (including a soulful "Satisfied" rap), showing these guys can still jam like nobody's business.
I had to sit down to gather myself at this point. As soon as I heard the funky "Fishwater," I shot up like a rocket, ready to get down and dirty again. "Four train days/ Get me back to New Orleans." Halloween anybody? Schools absolutely beat the hell out of his bass for the song's entirety.
The "Drums" portion of the evening came with some help from DJ Logic and Hunter Williams. This is usually my cue to hit the restrooms, but the scratching was infectious, so I endured. JoJo was the first to crawl back onstage, then Schools joined him, bringing the bass back for "Fishwater." Like they never left, everyone was back on beat. "More fishwater! Mo, Mo, Mo, Mo."
|John Bell :: 07.26|
Like fresh air, "Surprise Valley" came blowing in. Todd and Sunny started it off and Herring slowly swept in. It did not take long for Schools to join him. JB's voice rang out, "Oh, kiss the mountain air we breathe." By the seven-minute mark, this song was on Interstate 77 headed straight for Jam Town. Mid-song, Herring had an ace up his sleeve with the jam he belted out, which sounded eerily like a riff from "Layla." Then, the boys began to wind down and head into "Tallboy." I didn't really care much for this tune, but Panic had me in its hold. I weathered about two minutes before trying to beat everyone to the bathroom.
After about five minutes of overhearing everyone chatter about what was to come, Panic came back for a three-song encore. Todd brought the beat as JoJo laid down the funky notes of "Superstition." They had not played this Stevie Wonder jam in over a year, and the crowd was into it, moving like the ocean. The segue into "Dream Song" was like a huge fluffy cloud lifting us off to dreamland. The nuances of this song were just amazing. JoJo's B3 sang with JB's voice, both echoing through the amphitheatre. Schools slowly jumped from note to note. Soon the crowd was swaying to Herring and JB's haunting guitar work. Ending the night with "Ain't Life Grand," the boys played this one by the book. The last line summed up the evening, the tour, the band and the fans: "And in my mind I was a child/ And it felt good!"
As I headed to the parking lot, I tried to take it all in. Widespread Panic wasn't just taking a step towards a new and exciting era, but a gigantic leap. Herring has come into his own with the rest of the beast that is Widespread Panic. What at times seems like slight of hand is Herring's technical ability to flash flood your eardrums with everything from jazz to Southern blues. If you missed any of the past summer tour, do yourself a favor and mark your calendars. Fall tour is just around the corner.
07.26.08 :: Charlotte, NC
Set One: Blackout Blues, Walkin' (For Your Love), And It Stoned Me > Wondering > Rock, Pickin' Up The Pieces, Holden Oversoul > Henry Parsons Died > Action Man
Set Two: Chainsaw City*, All Time Low, Life During Wartime > Chilly Water, Machine > Barstools and Dreamers, Fishwater > Drums*# > Fishwater*#, Surprise Valley > Tall Boy
Encore: Superstition, Dream Song, Ain't Life Grand
* w/DJ Logic
# w/ Hunter Williams
JamBase | North Carolina
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