The hype around NYE for Widespread Panic was as thick as the Mississippi air in July. Rightfully so, as the band announced earlier in the year that it would be taking the year of 2004 off. As always it was a culmination of a year of their music, but unlike NYE shows of the past, in a way it was a culmination of the band’s career, the fans' love of the band, and the strength of both parties over these tough times the last two years.

By Eric Leaf
I hadn’t seen Panic since their spring shows in Chicago (4/11-12/03). I had been out of touch--with the band, with the scattered Panic friends I’d accumulated over the years, and especially with the music as a whole. While it’s been hard for me to come around to hear the sound without my favorite powerful presence onstage, I knew that I needed to be there with close friends, old friends, and the band that made me realize what role soul plays in music.

My fiancé and I surprised our friends on NYE morning by showing up, after countless pleas to get us to come since the shows were announced. The entire day was just right from the start, from the weather, to the company, to the sense of what would be that night.

The lights dropped and the boys came out wielding their acoustics to ease in the night of music. The night started off slow but emotional with “Fishing,” a track off the new album. Things picked up after a nice mellowing version of “Party at Your Mama’s House” with “Counting Train Cars” and the return of saxophone legend Randall Bramblett on “Down,” “Christmas Katie,” and “Blackout Blues.” The set started the show off well, but I was really anxious from the beginning to hear what Panic does best: loud, nasty, dirty, rock 'n' roll. Before the acoustic set ended, we got it. At times it seemed like the acoustic version of “Chilly Water” to end the set was a full-blown electric one. The energy was intense, the crowd was the same, and the band left everyone in the Philips Arena wanting more.

By The Kayceman
And more we got around 20 minutes later when they came back out on stage. Immediately Dave Schools hit the bass line for “Bowlegged Woman” and the place erupted. Keeping the energy level high, the band continued with “Stop-Go,” a song that in my mind that has become even more of an anthem for the band the last two years. The emotionally charged voice of John Bell ended the song and out came Randall Bramblett to sit in on a nice version of “Sleepy Monkey.” A solid “Disco” continued the set of songs that were being played with an enthusiasm that lacked in my mind at the beginning of the year. Of course for me, there are songs I just can’t and don’t want to hear, and the next song “Jack” was one of them. This is one of the songs, along with "Pilgrims,” that just grabbed me as a Michael Houser fan. As a hobby guitarist, I realize that no one can make these songs sound the way Mikey did, and a replacement of any kind is not what any Panic fan is looking for. So in my head, at that moment, I played him in my mind, I tried to hear it, I just couldn't have some of these songs any other way. But the opening notes of “Coconut” were just what I needed to pick me back up. This was an excellent version that had the whole place jumpin’, and with just twenty minutes to midnight, the band took a short break.

In typically Widespread fashion, the countdown was given by the crew and as Auld Lang Syne was played over the system, the air was filled with confetti and air horns, along with the love of friends, family, and most of all a fitting tribute to Mikey. After everyone was able to give their friends the proper NYE salutations, the band took stage and ripped into a charged version of “Imitation Leather Shoes.” “Ain’t Life Grand,” the overall anthem of the band, in my opinion, was next, keeping the crowd basking in the light of the people around them and the six-headed machine that they came to see. Then during the next part of the set, a strange feeling came over me. All of a sudden I was blown away again at a Widespread Panic show, something that hadn’t happened to me in a long time. Now whether it was my own attitude, state of mind, or the band that didn’t make this happen during the last two years, I can’t be quite sure, but I am certain that it was the band that did it to me on Wednesday night. “Bust it Big,” the first time I’ve ever heard this song, hooked me right away. “Ribs and Whiskey,” a favorite of mine from acoustic JB solo shows, was in full force, electric and completely overwhelming, as the song with the whole band was even better than I imagined throughout the years. The next food related song, "Thought Sausage," kept the pace with its dirty rock/funk. Then came “Life During Wartime,” it was a party, but it wasn’t a disco, and they were definitely not fooling around. At this point the smiles lit up the arena and I to my surprise I had one of the biggest. The set finally gave us a breather with the mellow darkness of “Blight.” A solid version went into the resurrection of the Randall Bramblett song “Get In Get Out,” with Bramblett on sax and vocals. With a break themselves Panic turned it back up to end out the set with solid versions of “Tall Boy” and “Action Man.”

By Pamela Rody
A particularly long encore break turned into a particularly long encore that made most float out of the arena. The opening notes of “Driving Song” started and the fans knew they were in for a long one. "Driving" usually appears in sandwich form, so the fans expected the moment when the next song would begin. We stood with all the anticipation of children on Christmas Eve, notes dangling around and slowly coming together into the opening of what everyone in the house was waiting for all year, a “Vacation.” This song epitomizes the love the fans have for Michael Houser, the love they have for the band, for each other, and love that this band truly shares with their fans. Being teased all year, this moment was perfect. Vocals were emotionally delivered by Jojo and JB, as well as by the crowd. The song was what everyone wanted, the way they wanted it. Panic knew it and delivered it eloquently. The tune led back into the end of “Driving Song” and into a solid version of “Makes Sense to Me” to send us all out. The encore had several lyrical lines that had always been there, but at this point in time could be interpreted as hints at the next year off. I’m not sure if the thought of this or if they just played the music that they love, definitely the latter or maybe both.

So to Widespread Panic, thank you, for yet again another wonderful New Year’s Eve. Now get some well-deserved rest and the faithful will see you in 2005.

Eric Creighton
Jambase | Atlanta
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[Published on: 1/2/04]

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