CELEBRATING LIFE WITH WIDESPREAD PANIC

From small smoky bars with a few hundred people to the massive Madison Square Garden with close to 20,000 friends, Widespread Panic has done it all. I remember joking about this day way back when. Leaning on the bar watching JB and the boys rip through a heated set of that patented Panic rock 'n' roll, wondering, wishing, dreaming, almost laughing about seeing them at MSG... Well hot diggidy, the day has come, and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to be there to help them celebrate.


MSG from widespreadpanic.com
Now I use the word "celebrate" very deliberately here because if there has ever been a band that deserves to celebrate it is Widespread Panic. I realize it may not be the same for everyone, but humor me because there is a good chance that if you are reading this, then you too have "your band." And trust me when I say that this is far more than just a show or a band for me, and for most of the people that packed one of the world's greatest rock stadiums over Halloween weekend for that matter. This is life boiled down to its core elements. Panic is the soundtrack for my life, and watching their storied career has at times been almost too much, it seems almost scripted in some way. You have the 18-year, grassroots we'll-do-it-our-way-and-only-our-way band. You have that clear brotherly bond on stage and family vibe in the crowd. Then the unthinkable. Cancer strikes and the "Panic" in Widespread Panic, Michael Houser dies quickly, displaying incredible strength, dedication, and passion as he plays till his last days on earth (an entire story unto itself). The Panic beast is wounded, many questioned the future. They call on old friend and certified guitar ripper George McConnell to step up and help them walk. They kept walking, putting one foot in front of the other. They began to show quick bursts of potential and moments of mayhem. They grew and changed, reformed and recharged. It became a new, and noticeably different Panic animal, and over the past few months they proved that they are still a beast of incredible power.

Now that is LIFE. Work, passion, and fun, mixing them up as much as possible, following your dreams and chasing them down with reckless abandon. Devastation at the peak of your career, death, unthinkable roads, and perseverance. Anyone who has lost a family member can relate to the horrors of waking up in the morning. Being forced from that semi-dream state where maybe, just maybe it was a bad dream. To have to get up and drink your coffee knowing you can't talk to him anymore... anyone who has dealt with that can only stare in awe of what Widespread Panic has done. And it doesn't matter what you think of their ass-kickin' music, as men and musicians you can only raise your glass, tip your hat, and smile wide.

October 31st, 2003

Dressed in all our festive (and pretty damn scary if I do say so myself) Halloween attire, me and mine scurried down to the floor setting up camp in the ever-so-pleasant Schools Zone. With the sound of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who opened both nights at MSG, sliding off stage and a head growing light with anticipation I couldn't stand still. Speculation was running rampant as we discussed the possible choice of openers for this, the band's first-ever gig at the one, the only, Madison Square Garden. Would it be some obscure cover, would it be a rarity... The response from my well-schooled faithful partner in crime was: "NO, STRAIGHT PANIC!" And with that the lights went down, and we settled in for the ride.

A strange noise began to spill out of the speakers, a man's voice, some plinks, and hollow blips. With no one on stage and this disturbing voice asking, "What's he building in there? I'll tell you one thing he's not building a playhouse for the children. I swear to God I heard someone moaning low. What's he building in there?..." things were already getting weird. It took a while to figure out that it was Tom Waits from his Mule Variations album. This mind-fuck of an intro was a spectacular choice for Halloween, and I was applauding before I even saw the band.


By Michael Weintrob
Out walks John Bell as the Statue of Liberty with Dave Schools donning an ominous (yet strangely natural) looking black cape and my boy looks at me, "here it comes, STRAIGHT PANIC." With out even looking up from their instruments, let alone addressing the crowd, Panic dropped into the essential "Chilly Water" opener. It was an instant party in MSG. Water bottles that were designated to keep us hydrated were emptied through the air as Schools sent his bass rattling in the underbelly, and it was on!

Turning "Chilly" into an opening sandwich, Schools signaled "Imitation Leather Shoes" with a huge bomb and George McConnell (dressed in a bright orange inmate's outfit) followed suit with his screaming guitar that continues to impress me more and more. JB was a bit excited on the "We took a trip to California" line as he came in a hair early, but who wouldn't be excited to be playing Halloween at MSG!? Coming out with "Chilly" and throwing "Imitation" in the middle is about as Panic as it gets (guess my boy nailed that call), and when JB sings, "I don't wanna fake it anymore" and George rips off a few notes, it's hard not to think about a band saying, "We are here, we may be a new breed of Panic, but we ain't gonna fake it anymore." Coming back with the "Venus Light is Rising," "Chilly Water" made a full circle as JB showed what it means to be potentially the best front man in the game.


By Michael Weintrob
With their feet wet the band finally acknowledged the massive crowd and dug in for a wonderful rendition of "Papa Johnny Road" off their latest album Ball. This track is quickly becoming a Widespread Panic mainstay, and seems to prove without question that the band is still writing amazing songs. Halloween night and JB sings, "Laughed so hard that the devil got scared." Talk about appropriate.

From a dusty road and a strangely enjoyable beating ("I got a real good mind to beat you senseless"-- from "Papa Johnny Road") we moved to the backyard with a slide guitar and our families gathered around the grill. The rare "Ribs and Whiskey" (15th time ever) came out as everyone began to loosen up. The ten-minute version was a definite highlight and featured a smooth JB rap talking about "that old neighborhood" and "playing like a man, cause you're resourceful."


By Michael Weintrob
As forest fires were engulfing San Diego and Los Angeles the bouncing bongos of Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz ushered in the rains with "Hatfield." The always impressive Schools "lead bass" excursion helped push "Hatfield" over the 13-minute mark as George displayed incredibly patience, staying back on the beat a bit, hanging, almost lingering. As the clouds broke apart and JB began to rap some more he made mention of "the old neighborhood" once again. I could only think that perhaps this was a nod to John "JoJo" Hermann, as he went to school and spent a great deal of time in New York. JB kept talkin' and rappin' and brought us back to "Ribs and Whiskey" with a sister who is a bit older now, and a few Pabst Blue Ribbons.

"Doreatha" gave George a chance to sing (his only vocals of the night) before a fierce "Give." I had been aching for a nasty "Give" and they came out of the closet with flamethrowers disposing of everything and anyone in their path.


By Michael Weintrob
Always aware of their setting, the band came out of the heated George guitar assault of "Give" with five New York songs in a row that have never crossed a Panic PA system. First up was JB nailing Lou Reed's "Vicious." After "Vicious" the band served up a punk-rockin' Ramones trifecta of "Pet Cemetery" > "Beat On The Brat" > "I Wanna Be Sedated." While none of these blew me away musically, the novelty of it was impressive. Halloween, strange covers, and clearly a nod to their geography, the songs held their own, not to mention JoJo (who was ON FIRE all weekend) seemed to be having the time of his life during "I Wanna Be Sedated." Without question the most impressive of the covers, and perhaps the only one that will show it's face again was the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." With Effrem Town of the Dirty Dozen throwing some trumpet on top, this song blew the roof off MSG. After hearing what JB did with "Life During Wartime" (and re-reading the lyrics) it seems as if Panic has been waiting since the beginning of their career to bust this out at the right time. JB doubled up on the "coupla visa's" line, but I don't think anyone noticed, and if they did, they certainly didn't care, because this rendition was off the charts. George was making weird scratching sounds on his axe, JoJo was freaking out, and again, JB KILLED IT.


By Michael Weintrob
Set one of four was very impressive and kept everyone guessing. The band came out of the gates determined to blow it open. Speaking of coming out of the gates, "Action Man" blew out of the stables to start the second set. But before rock 'n' roll enveloped MSG, JB looked out over the crowd and smiled with the words, "I kinda like wearing a dress. It's all about freedom." I wonder if John Bell even knew how appropriate that statement was. Dressed as the Statue of Liberty in the heart of New York City and leading one of the most free parties on the planet earth... I bet he knew... he's JB.

Jerry Joseph's angry rock anthem "North" came out of "Action Man" and elicited a full-on raging freak show in my area. Around this time people started to let it all hang out. Screaming at the stage I got a bit lost in the moment and found myself moving closer to JB and sweating through my black eyes.

The Panic train was rolling and gathering massive momentum as I got my first taste of the new JoJo song, "Bust It Big." What a great song. It was clearly "JoJo GO Time" as he went finger happy on the clavinet leading the band through a rollicking hard number with dark overtones. There is a great instrumental segment with George rapping his guitar around the beat which eventually drops into a stop-start timing segment with JoJo's vocals rising above the mix as he screams, "Bust it big, gonna ride my ticket." Next time around we find him repeating the phrase, "Rosemary's baby is a New York City kid... Well he drinks his Mama's blood, but he's got his Daddy's eyes, you're the one who taught me everything I know. Gonna Bust it big, gonna ride my ticket." The song fell into a great vocal jam with Schools doing back up before they erupt into a heavy key and distorted guitar-focused section that sent MSG into a whirlwind.


By Michael Weintrob
In thinking about "Bust It Big," "Monstrosity," "Nebulous" or any of the other "new Panic" songs that are developing, I have to say that I like songs I've never heard Mikey play. There's no Houser wiring in my hard drive. That's not to say I'm not enjoying the way Panic is reworking things, because I really am--REALLY. I think the JoJo/George relationship--and George with the entire sound really--has come miles, and the whole thing is beyond my greatest expectations of where they would be in a year.

"Henry Parsons Died" was about as strong as I've seen it since Mikey (a song I feel they've had a hard time working back into form), but it was the "Monstrosity," "Pigeons" duo that really showed Panic in peak current condition. There are times when George plays relentless guitar with incredibly quick licks flying out at an almost incomprehensible rate, but it's when things slow down a bit and the guitar starts to blend with the bass, and JB's rhythm locks in with Todd's rock solid drums that Panic really becomes Panic. The sounds wash together and the mind starts to wander. You stop thinking about how sick it sounds and the mind leaves the body, so to speak. There was a segment toward the end of "Monstrosity" that found the band mixing it up in this fashion, and when it bled into "Pigeons" it was clear that the time had come to spread our wings.


By Michael Weintrob
Towards the middle of "Pigeons" George takes a clean bright guitar solo that soars, but it's the emergence of his dark distortion later in the song that keeps the faithful moving. When George busts out those Dickey Betts-type licks they are impressive, but grounding in a way. It becomes too easy to break the musical components down in your mind and you find yourself conscious of your surroundings, of your own limbs, your own mind. But when George runs his Paul Reed Smith through screaming distortion, Panic takes on that swirling mass of sound and Panic truly takes over sending all thought out the window until JB yells, "WAKE UP, LEAVE YOUR BODY LYING THERE!"--that is Widespread Panic, and it can still tear a hole through your soul.


By Michael Weintrob
At this point the band welcomed the Dirty Dozen back for the remainder of the set, including another first timer, "Love Is The Drug" by Bryan Ferry. Some tripped-out keyboards, a solid rhythm, and JB doing his thing made this a welcome surprise before launching into "Arleen."

"Arleen" has long been a Panic blow out, and Halloween would be a strong showing of this young girl. I could have used a few more minutes of this lil' beauty, but then again I could almost always use another taste of "Arleen." Not only was JB ripping the lyrics and bringing back an extended "Ribs and Whiskey" rap, but his always underrated guitar work was rising above the fold helping to create that swirling sound I spoke of before. Things got pretty hairy with the horn-heavy "Arleen," and George again showed that he is really making these songs a part of HIS repertoire, not just songs that he plays with Panic.

Photos by Michael Weintrob
The party pushed on as Sunny's whistle and Schools' bass pushed us into "Coconut." "Coconut" is the feel-good party song of Panic legend. This was one of the first originals and always a welcome addition to the show. With the horns backing JB and Gmac (George McConnell) slicing in a few fresh licks, they smoked this one and left us out to dry with the seventh "first ever" song of the night, "The Time Warp."

The Richard O'Brien Rocky Horror Picture Show "Time Warp" was a perfect closer for Halloween. With seven spankin' new covers from the 70s, "Time Warp" was spot on, and of course, JB rocked it, making it sound more like an old faithful than a never before.

Catching our breath before the encore I began looking around at the packed house. I felt a rather sublime feeling rush over me, and I began to think about the past and how big this whole thing has become. I began to feel both sad and happy at the same time... Being in the presence of my family and awaiting the return of our heroes I couldn't help but think that the days are numbered, and the bands first break ever will soon be here. Reflection was taking over and right as I was about to consume myself they appeared again, guitars in hand ready to say goodnight.


By Michael Weintrob
The incredibly appropriate and wonderfully played "City Of Dreams" began to cover us all, and it was gorgeous. I stood there about 15 rows back arm and arm with my brothers, forcing a little tear back down. With my fist reaching to the rafters I wanted to tell them all thank you. Everyone, band, fans, crew, and more, I wanted to send my love out. And when they busted into "Ain't Life Grand" I did send that love out... the only way I know how, by dancing my ass off and roughing up my friends. I can't really explain why this is how we show affection, but it is. Love and bruises, screaming at the moon with whiskey in hand, that's how we say I love you, and we made love all weekend.

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons kept us up all night at The Knitting Factory and proved to be a wonderful way to keep the party going. With a "Brother Michael" and "You Got Yours," whiskey in hand and SpreadHeads galore, Jerry and the Knit sent us close to sunrise. With little if any sleep and a few handles drained, it was time to go to work again...

November 1st, 2003

Due to previous engagements, a lot of work at hand, and life weighing in, going into night two I was already aware that this was my last Panic show for a long time. I'd be lying if I didn't say this was a tough pill to swallow, but such is life. I put great consideration into the highly anticipated Myrtle Beach shows following MSG, but with the aforementioned work piling up I knew I couldn't do both... so MSG and family won this time. What I mean is that I knew my whole Panic Posse would never be able to secure tickets to the House of Blues Myrtle Beach shows, and knowing that half of Panic is the family, New York won by a land slide... that and MSG! I've had some damn near religious experiences at MSG, and tearing NYC open is a long-standing passion of mine. So considering a weekend in the Big Apple with about 25 of my closest friends and Panic's first time ever to MSG, the decision wasn't all that tough, it was really the knowledge that I wouldn't be at New Year's either that kept me up at night. SO BE IT! This was it. This was my last chance to dance and I got after it with fervor, passion, intensity, and insanity. When my friends tell me that I have "that look" or that "I'm scaring people" it's safe to assume that the hinges are off, the governor stripped, and anything goes at this point. As I just said, THIS WAS MY LAST PARTY WITH PANIC for a long time.


from widespreadpanic.com
Just as I was wasting no time on this evening, neither was the band. "All Time Low," and it's business time. No easing into it, no smooth entry, this was an aggressive, gun slinging, get-the-fuck-outa-my-way set opener. And if "All Time Low" wasn't mean enough, "Greta" and her gun came out of a locked door and shit was getting nasty two songs in. One measure in and Schools is already howling, and when Schools howls, you know you're in for it. JoJo was clearly fired up, and George had the growl on heavy, before I knew what was happening I took a forearm to the back... yeah, me and my friends sure do love each other. George kills "Greta," screaming through the sections like a madman in an out of control Ford Ranchero on his way to Mexico throwing broken bottles out the window and shooting pistols into the sky. JoJo joins up with George and the two of them turn "Greta" inside out in a heavy distorted psychedelic melee.

The theme was obviously hard-nosed, rough-you-up rock as "Makes Sense To Me" showed up next. The band was firing on all pistons, the power was remarkable, and JB had me scared with his delivery of "If I must bust a few heads to achieve a little spiritual justice, my RIGHTEOUS CAUSE WILL EXPLAIN THE CRIME." George sounded better than ever and JoJo was laying on the Hammond... Panic was in high gear, and it was only the third song.


from widespreadpanic.com
After the three-song opening onslaught there seemed little question that they needed to bring it down, or else someone was clearly going to get hurt. Exchanging George's Paul Reed Smith and JB's hollow body for the acoustics, the band launched into "Driving Song." This WP staple stands out as one of the bands greatest songs, and lends itself to infinite moments of self-reflection. Like many, I've spent a lifetime drinking these lyrics, they are a part of my DNA, and as JB tells us--that honest tune and lingering lead have "taken me this far."

As George took control with a slightly different feel, and that chilly breeze had blown my thoughts to what's to come, I couldn't help but ponder what will happen in the days ahead. What do you do when your band no longer plays? Where do you go when all your friends have left? What happens when your water dries up?

Placing "Fishing," a new song off Ball, in the middle of "Driving" worked well and further led my mind meandering. I was completely removed from MSG; I was somewhere else, almost looking down from above. When "Trouble" came out of the "Driving" sandwich tears were lining up. I think "Trouble" very well may be the saddest song I've ever heard. And I don't think I will ever hear it and not think of Mikey. So there I am in Madison Square Garden surrounded by my closest compadres, seeing images of Mikey, fully aware that this was my last Panic party, and it became a struggle to keep dry... Sometimes I can't figure out why I care so much, or why I am so damn emotional about Panic. It's almost like a knee-jerk reaction, or some Pavlovian experiment. They play a certain song and I go blue with beautiful rage and scream every word at JB. They play another and I'm fighting tears, another and I'm hugging my best friend... And just like any good doctor, Panic knew what I needed coming out of Cat Stevens' "Trouble."


from widespreadpanic.com
Pavlov rang the "Climb to Safety" bell and Panic came out like gangbusters. "Trouble" into "Climb To Safety"--if you don't think they tell stories with their set lists, then you're just not paying attention. It seemed as if 20,000 were singing every single word in unison as the sound was exploding in Gmac fury. We were grabbing each others' collars, barely escaping the impact of this train wreck and before you could thank JB--"AFTER ALL THAT I'VE BEEN THROUGH YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE (BAND) THAT MATTERS". It was a cathartic experience to see JB and Schools sing the words and hear them from thousands behind me... God bless those Panic boys.

JB jumped in a tad early on "Thought Sausage," but the dirty delivery more than made up for it. "Thought Sausage" is one of George's most lethal songs. Something about the way he plays the twisted, distorted notes sends shivers down my spine. This five-minute fist pumper had the Garden in frenzy. As all sounds became one and JB screamed, "Mama said come on in this kitchen, Daddy, 'cause I'm good and ready/ Come on and get it!", I looked around and my boy was stirring MSG with a giant ladle and the girl next to me had her eyes closed as she twitched with Panic madness.

Set one was full throttle mayhem and it seemed as if this huge crowd had all dialed into the Widespread Boogie message. Closing down this intense first set was a moving adaptation of J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light." JoJo continued to make my mouth drop as he took it way out on "Travelin' Light," building it up to the breaking point where JB takes the reigns and throws it back down. It's quite a feeling when the band is hitting stride... It's the only way to fly.

Another set break and too much time to think. After the set they just delivered, I knew the second half was gonna blow up. In all the years that I've been seeing Panic they never come up flat on the big one. Saturday night, second set in the second of two shows at the bands only-ever stop at the legendary Madison Square Garden: yeah, it's safe to say this was the big one. I wanted to stretch time out and make the night last forever... but at the same time I was eager to dive in. Lights and small talk are hard when all you can do is think Panic... especially when you are all too aware that this is the final set for you... Guess the time has come to take what's mine...


from widespreadpanic.com
Lights down, party up, and wipe that worried look off your face, it's gonna be OK, here comes JB. The stage was packed as the Dirty Dozen was in full force, the vibe was festive and I started yelling "Weight Of The World." Always a step ahead, the band busted a monster cover of "On Broadway." I don't think I have words for what I felt. Some wonderful combination of shock, surprise, awe, and utter disbelief. It sounded sooooo damn good. JB showed why he is the King of Cool as he led the massive musical machine through the smoothest, most soulful take of "On Broadway" that has perhaps ever been played. Towards the middle of this smile fest JB pulled off one of the coolest things I've ever heard. He set his body up and started to sing, "They say that I won't last to long On Broadway, On Broadway. I'll catch a Greyhound bus for home they all say, On Broadway. I know they're wrong, I know they are, 'CAUSE GEORGE CAN PLAY THAT DAMN GUITAR." The place erupted in cheers. I damn near lost it. Think about that for one second. JB is singing about how people all say he'll never make it, and he'll take a Greyhound out of New York and away from Broadway. Then he comes back with "I know they're wrong, I know they are 'cause George can play that damn guitar." Not that JB himself can play it, but George can. Not cause Schools can thump the bass, but because of George. If you don't think JB and the band are grateful to George, and if you don't realize what an amazing, incredible, out-of-this-world job George has done, then I don't know what rock you live under, but you better crawl back down there.


By Michael Weintrob
Coming off the George-saving "On Broadway," the "Weight Of The World" I heard hints of came served up on a nice brass platter. "Weight" was almost made for horns and this would be a dirty little ditty featuring impressive, heavy bass work from Schools and searing guitar lines from George.

Talk about wanting to make it last all night... "Christmas Katie," boasting a full horn section and fully equipped with her "big city nights" made a raucous showing and damn near knocked the wheels off during the "MAKE IT LAST ALL NIGHT" freak out. With horns punctuating George's manic display on guitar it became sensory overload. I had no choice but to give in to the madness. As they brought it down George went ultra-psychedelic as he was weaving guitar lines in and out of the music. There was an intimate conversation ensuing on stage and it sounded about as good as it did all year during those last few minutes of "Christmas Katie."


By Michael Weintrob
JoJo and the horns broke down "Katie" with an avant-jazz movement before taking the roof off with "Superstition." Again Panic keeps us guessing by not playing the Stevie Wonder funk-down on Halloween, but instead pulling out the incredibly rare (15th time ever) classic on the 1st. As soon as JoJo hit the clav MSG went berserk. This almost twelve-minute exercise in sweaty Panic get-down was perhaps the highlight of the weekend. I was doing the hippie shuffle, aisle back flip, knee stomping rage-athon. All thought had stopped (thank God), fears of the future, the break, Mikey, my missing friends... it all went away and Panic completely took control. That's what I'm looking for when I go see Widespread Panic. As I've said in the past, the name says it all--WIDESPREAD PANIC. And during "Superstition" there was PANIC all over the place, oozing out of the walls and dripping off the championship flags in the rafters. Everywhere you looked people were letting it go. If you weren't gettin' it at this point, you had to be dead. The horns and the bass, George and JB, Sunny clicking away, Todd on perfect time and JoJo going space-bound... this was what we came for.


from widespreadpanic.com
The gas pedal was pressed, and they never let up. "Drums" allowed for the horns to slip off stage without notice and brought us into the second half of the set. With the monster trimmed back to it's six-headed natural self, a determined Panic realigned and kept leaning on that overheating radiator. Seeing as how JoJo was putting forth the most impressive showing I've seen out of him in over a year, I was happy to hear "Ride Me High" creep out of "Drums."

The nasty lust-filled, drug-crazed connotations of "Ride Me High" were yet again perfectly placed toward the back of an insane New York weekend. Panic speaks directly to their fan base... and when JoJo tells us, "one thing that's for certain, and one thing that's for sure, the less you got the more you want SO DON'T YOU CRY FOR MORE" he is preaching to the choir.

Breaking out of "Ride Me High" was "Surprise Valley." I was in fact very surprised to hear it on this fine evening. For some reason I had not really considered this, one of my all time favorite (and Mikey-based) songs. There are selections that are just hard to deal with since the loss of Mikey... "Surprise Valley" has been one. But tonight it seemed different, at least for me. I don't know if it's my ears adjusting to George, the band adjusting to him, George just finding his way, or the likely scenario of all three, but I've said over the past year, every time I've seen Widespread Panic since 07.04.02--the day Mikey stepped down--or perhaps more accurately since that summer tour ended, it's gotten better and better and I've enjoyed it more and more every time I've seen them. That notion would never be more clear than during "Surprise Valley," a song I've cringed at a few times in the past year, but tonight it was right. Tonight it was George's. Sure I was thinking about Mikey, how could you not, but instead of a pain in my gut it was the warm arm of an old friend on my shoulder. Everything seemed right as I looked around MSG and heard JB repeat, "The spirit moves in all things." The interplay between George's dirty-ass guitar and JoJo's licks followed by the undulating bass of Schools sent "Surprise Valley" into mind-spin out-of-body mode. The mid-song guitar bust-out and ethereal breakdown was incredibly impressive and led to complete loss of consciousness. I was gone; Panic had a full grip on me and was tossing me around like a rag doll. JoJo went boogaloo banzai and led it into nothing but Sunny and his congas. I reached a point where I even forgot what song we were in. I laughed at myself when they swung it back and smiled with the knowledge that Panic was clearly in control of The Kayceman.


from widespreadpanic.com
Emerging from the wide-open "Surprise Valley" was the weight of "I'm Not Alone." How the band balances such heavy emotions, light and dark, party and pain, all with a natural ease is a mystery of the Panic machine. Schools takes an incredibly deep low-end bass solo that captivates 20,000 people before JB comes in displaying his unique vocal genius. He draws closer to the mic and shuts his eyes, "First I turn to this, than I turn to that, then I turn a little bit scared," and with scared his voice shakes, opening a quick glimpse into the fears we all try to keep hidden. And knowing that this was the last time I'd be in a room with John Bell for a while, the tears were threatening again, but as I looked straight up at the ceiling and JB sang, "Feeling a bit easier now knowing that you're all here" and the roar of a city behind me, somehow I too was feelin' easier.

Bringing the tempo way back to rage mode was a hot and bothered "Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi)." Another track off Ball, the band has been working the percussion-laced, upbeat song heavily in their rotation and seems to have added some serious push to it since it's inception. JB yellin' about, "Guitars can talk" and George running down the neck of his axe while JoJo breaks ivory, this "Thin Air" was more impressive than the past few I've heard. The clear peak of "Thin Air" was an inspired thumping bass solo by Schools that drove this new number home.

With no time to catch our breath Schools followed that insane bass pummeling and led us to JB's doorstep. We came around the corner and there's John dangling the keys in front our faces, it was time to pull the tractor out of the barn. A classic Panic closer, "Love Tractor" features an aggressive beat and HEAVY crowd participation. When Schools led the 20,000 through the YEEEHAAAAAAAA section it was about as loud as I remember hearing it in recent history. There are few if any bands that can summons a call/response mechanism in the fashion these boys can. Every one of the 20,000 knew what to do, and when to do it. Elated screams, insane dynamite-packed drum work (Todd Nance may be one of the most under-appreciated drummers playing) ripping guitars and serious fist pumping action brought one of the more impressive Panic set I've seen this year to a close.

from widespreadpanic.com
I stood there on the floor of Madison Square Garden full of awe, and dripping with sweat. What would the encore be? At this point I couldn't even speculate. I knew we would get three songs, but where to start with the options... there were too many. One second. That was all it took for the shit to hit the fan. I've been waiting more than three years and 260 shows to hear "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and I guess that's one more thing I can cross of my list of things to do before I die. MSG blew wide open. Often referred to as the "greatest cover band ever" JB's delivery of the Warren Zevon classic was HUGE. There is perhaps no more appropriate cover for the Panic faithful than "Lawyers, Guns, and Money." If you've ever spent time with Widespread Panic then you are well aware of this, and if you're not sure what I mean, well this is neither the time nor the place to explain why we all need "Lawyers, Guns, and Money to get us out of this." I was riding miles high on this three-minute bomb. In fact, I'd be willing to say that this was perhaps the most enjoyable three-minutes of the year for me. Three-minute songs aren't exactly what get me off, but this was unlike any other three minute offering I've ever been a part of. They hit the nail square on the head and drove it deep into my being.


from widespreadpanic.com
Pushing a smooth transition out of "Lawyers, Guns, and Money" Schools grabbed hold of "Flat Foot Flewzy" for a hot romp through a Saturday night. The band threw "Flewz" into overdrive and continued to press on an already depleted gas reserve. At this point there was no holding back, they were gonna ride it hard and wet until she hit land. Schools nailed the tricky bass parts and added some crazy lyrical tweaks to JB's impressive vocal and guitar work. JoJo continued to go hard as can be, George was out of hand and the entire sound fell into one big sweaty mess. I caught a look around the Garden and it was pure insanity... bodies flying, beer spilling and minds melting, it was as they say, "PANIC."

At the end of "Flewzy" you can hear Schools say, "Fasten your seatbelts folks" and with that they launch into "Space Wrangler." Like "Chilly Water," "Driving Song" and a few others, "Space Wrangler" epitomizes Widespread Panic. One of the first songs to ever grab me way back when I stopped in my tracks as we entered the world of "Time machines, new routines, familiar grace and cold cold beer." Emotions were extreme, and out of my control at this point. While "Wrangler" epitomizes Panic, it also draws Mikey to mind. I've had a wide-array of emotions when hearing "Wrangler" this past year... but tonight I felt a tear of joy creeping in as George went smoke show on the guitar solo. The entire song sounded so damn good, they were all over it. Sure it was a bit different, but it was food for the soul nonetheless. Saying goodnight and goodbye with a highflying "Space Wrangler" to cap off an 18-minute three-song encore coming off two ricter shows in a row screams Panic.

The house lights came up and I just stood there, staring at the stage. That was it. That was my last ride on the Panic train for who knows how long. I looked around and saw many tears, some of joy, some of sorrow... and most with a mix of the two. As I stood there without the use of words yet I thought back to the first set on Halloween. There was a point when Schools rolled past JB, across the stage and right up to George. Schools was wearing his devious, sly smile and had the visible excitement of a 10-year-old running through him. As he slid up to George he pulled what I'm pretty damn sure was a bouquet of flowers out and handed them to G Money himself. George was overrun with emotion, and his smile said way more than his tongue ever could. I too would like to give George some flowers, and Schools some, and JB, JoJo, and Sunny and Todd too. I wanna give 'em all some flowers, a firm handshake, look them in the eye and buy 'em all a round of drinks. I can't think of a more deserving bunch of cats. They did what many--including myself--thought impossible. They brought the machine back up to full throttle. Is it different? No need to even ask... Is it better? I really don't want to talk about that. What I do want to talk about is the Big Picture. Panic brought the party back. Panic brought the beast back. PANIC BROUGHT STRAIGHT HEAT TO MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. Looking back at Summer and Fall 2002 I NEVER thought they would find their way back to what I witnessed at MSG, and that my friends is why Schools gave George flowers... and that is why I raise my glass to you and to you and to you--and especially to George, JB, Todd, Schools, JoJo, and Sunny... "Cheers, to your friends so near. Raise another glass to the dreams so near." God bless 'em, 'cause I am SATISFIED.

The Kayceman
JamBase | HeadQuarters
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[Published on: 11/14/03]

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