JOHN BELL - vocals, guitar
JOHN HERMAN - keyboards, vocals
TODD NANCE - drums, vocals
DOMINGO ORTIZ - percussion, vocals
DAVE SCHOOLS - bass, vocals


That is what the back of Widespread Panic's new DVD, Live From The Backyard in Austin, TX says. And that's exactly what this is, a snapshot of those five men in the middle of their 2002 summer tour. Joining JB, JoJo, Todd, Sunny and Schools are special guests Randall Bramblett on sax and vocals, and George McConnell, who is now officially Panic's new guitar player, on six string and vocals.

Sprinkled throughout the first disc of this release are moments of musical brilliance and heaps of wonderful footage of one of the most prolific and influential bands of this generation. Widespread Panic's seventeen plus years is a testament to a band that seems capable of just about everything. Everything from sleeping on floors and being paid out of the pool table to selling out stadiums and headlining the biggest festival in recent history, the now famous Bonnaroo. Panic has proven - yes they have proven - that they are even capable of finding strength and moving forward after losing their co-founder, lead guitarist and best friend, Mikey "Panic" Houser. Although that is not all of what we see when watching this DVD, it is clearly a large part of this moment in time.

July 20th, 2002 was twelve shows and eighteen days after Houser played his last notes with the band, and under one month before he passed from this world. To not realize, state and be aware of this would be to take this DVD out of context. And when viewed in light of this fact, a slightly odd yet certainly inspired show turns into a remarkable musical achievement with flashes of what's to come.

By Pamela Rody
It all starts at The Backyard on a hot summer day. This outdoor venue is certainly a prime venue to see Panic, or any band for that matter. But something about Widespread Panic down in Texas with all those cowboy hats, wranglers, and wide-open spaces sure seems fitting. Set one gets going with a very appropriate "Weight Of The World" and "Down." Schools comes out dropping bombs and doesn't let up all night, and JB shines, as always, both on lead vocals and back up on "Down." Schools and JB stepping it up is really no surprise. What is far more striking is the way George slides into this situation and brings his "A Game." "Tall Boy" illustrates a tool the boys used throughout their whole summer tour; Randall on sax and George on guitar playing together in order to get a fuller, more swarming sound, and they certainly do it well. There is clearly never a question about Randall or George's musical ability, they are top-notch players, no if and or buts about it. They wouldn't have been brought on for the job if they weren't.

By Pamela Rody
"Rock" is great as the set gathers some momentum and JB stands strong, but things really get interesting as "Rock" rolls into "Little Lily." In this transition there is a dark section that really shows why George is now a member of Team Panic. It's exactly as Schools says in the interview portion (more on that later) of this double disc when he is commenting on George and says it's all about the "chemistry." And with Widespread Panic it really is all about the chemistry, the relationship and the conversation on stage. You can't just throw a regular guitar player into this situation and expect him to be able to move in and out of this very intelligent and intimate world. He has to have a certain quality that you can't put into words. And George shows his knowledge, or perhaps even more than his knowledge, he shows that he simply thinks the same way, that he wants the music to go in the same direction the rest of the band does. He listens. To me this was the highlight of the set, JB way out in front on "Rock" and louder than ever in the mix, with Randall and Schools creating a growling low end as it all bleeds into "Little Lilly."

By Michael Weintrob
Other points of interest are the funky "Sleeping Man" with Schools belting out lyrics and throwing out some nasty faces as well as the "Trouble" into "Doreatha." This "Trouble > Doreatha" is a close-up of the band's situation. One of the most endearing qualities of WSP is their sense of knowing exactly what song to play at exactly the right time and their knack for telling stories and communicating with their set lists. This is a prime example of both. "Trouble" is perhaps the most gut wrenching and tear inducing song I have ever heard, and if Panic was ever in trouble, it was at this moment. But what comes out of "Trouble?" "Doreatha." But you might as well say that "George" comes out of this "Trouble." "Doreatha" is a George song from back when he played in Beanland with JoJo, and it's obvious that George is a friend that Panic is leaning on. The way George steps up to the mic and barks out the vocals brought a chill to my spine and elicited the first smiles of the evening from the rest of the band. Not only does George go hard on the vocals, but he lays into the guitar sections displaying serious dexterity and pure ripping ability.

Set two: it's dark, night has descended and Panic comes out from the shadows. The second set shows off some "newer" songs like, "Bayou Lena" to open and "Old Neighborhood" following "Give." They also do the Randall Bramblett song "Get In Get Out" with Randall and JB switching off lyrics and bringing later day Pink Floyd to mind.

While the first part of the set is interesting, things don't really take off until "Stop Breaking Down Blues" with Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi AllStars) shredding along side JB and George. The close up camera work on Luther shows him playing that Mark Knopfler style with no pick as his fingers dance all over the guitar. To add to this display, Luther procures a pick and goes on to show he can play the more traditional style as well. There are two "jams" found inside of "Stop Breaking Down Blues." The first is perhaps the most swarming, maddening, and "Panic" moment all night. Granted they have Luther, George, and Randall all on stage, but the way they chase each other around, poke in and out, and weave a dirty wall of sound is what we have come to expect from WSP. During this section George is playing his Les Paul through some distortion which really creates a grittier, nastier, Widespread Panicier sound. In fact when George plays through distortion he creates a growling dirty sound with some serious edge. In contrast to this in the second "jam," George plays a clean guitar line. It is very bright, and shining, reminiscent of the Allman Brothers and damn good. But I guess "bright" and "clean" don't blend with Widespread Panic in my mind, but this is not to say it wasn't great, because it certainly was. It's just going to take some adjusting, and that is why I think I resonate with George playing through distortion so much, because it makes the bridge from Mikey's Tele, to George's Les Paul a bit easier.

"Picking Up The Pieces" is beautiful and touching with Randall adding the proper colors with his sax, and "Christmas Katie" opens up with a serious rocking section. The set closer of "Action Man" with George on a Telecaster is solid and we get a few great shots from behind JoJo looking out at the crowd with George in the right corner. It's a marvelous angel and the use of going from tape to film adds an authentic texture as you can see fans raging up front just in the top part of the frame.

By Pamela Rody
The encore is a very deliberate nod to Mikey: "Old Joe" ("May you live long and lucky."), followed by "Blue Indian" ("How long 'til the medicine takes...Still right here, still just here, my brave little friend."), and finished off with "Imitation Leather Shoes" ("I don't want to fake it anymore!"). They close off this emotional show (as they all were on this tour) with two introspective, mellow songs and a rockier, dark, evil, hard one. On "Imitation" George roars and JB screams giving the boys a chance to get a little aggression and anger out.

This rounds out disc one and the show portion of the feature, but what follows for disc two, is in my opinion where the real juice can be found. Disc two allows you to meet the crew, contains some interesting looks at the band such as JB playing golf, and Schools shopping. However, the immense amount of personal interview time with each member of the band is by far the most enjoyable aspect of this package. It is a rare and very special treat to have such an intimate look and candid conversation with Widespread Panic. The camera moves separately from each individual as they talk about "Growth" and the sense of family that has always been present in the WSP organization. Each member comments on the others allowing us to learn about these legends, and to see that they really are just "regular" guys. JoJo talks about JB's ethic and his genuine mannerisms that ground Panic and that is what gives them the soul that has carried them this far. George talks about JB's extremely underrated guitar playing and dedication to helping him learn the parts.

By Jackie Jasper
As the conversation turns to comments on George, the pain and lack of Mikey wells up in Todd's eyes, and JoJo explains how you could never replace Mikey, you just have to move on. And when the camera turns to George he says that all he really cares about now is making the band proud, and even more so, "making Mikey proud." The question moves to "Carrying On" and this delicate and painful situation is taken head on. I didn't expect the band to comment on Houser, but remaining true to their nature, they lay it all on the table, and nothing is dodged. No topic is made "off limits." This is Widespread Panic and they remain true to their core. JB assumes the role of leader as he always has commenting on this "uncharted territory." He explains how the band never considered trying to copy what they did with Mikey, and that things are not the same, and they never will be. But you look at the wonderful people that make up the entire WSP family, and you move on... What else can you do? And as JB speaks about George and allowing him to apply himself to the material in the manner that moves him, with his own creative drive, the future of Widespread Panic begins to look brighter and brighter. As you see the respect and inherent love George has for the band, and the band for him, you start to see that this is not the end,

By The Kayceman
but a transition into something new. JB ends by saying all you can do is look to the future, and he painfully explains that this is not a comfortable situation. In fact, it's quite the opposite. But there is one small notion of comfort found in the fact that the decision has been made, and "this is the path your walking." And that is exactly what this DVD is; the path Widespread Panic is walking. They have not come back around yet, and they won't for some time. But with a new album featuring George coming out soon, and a summer tour already being set up it seems clear that Panic will once again rise to the occasion.

The Kayceman
JamBase | HeadQuarters
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[Published on: 2/13/03]

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