If you are one of the thousands upon thousands of people who are commonly referred to as "Spread Heads" (or "Spread Necks") then this is perhaps a somewhat difficult time in your musical life. Being that the leaders of the tribe, Widespread Panic, are on pretty much their first break ever, this has left their legion of rabid fans chomping at the bit for their next encounter with the boys. In light of this, and being the friendly, considerate chaps they are, Panic is releasing a few live CDs in their absence to keep the kids warm at night.

Night of Joy follows suit with 2000's Another Joyous Occasion in heavily featuring The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (on every track in fact). Culled from two out of three shows at the tiny House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this intimate affair is captured marvelously on the nine selected tracks found within.

At this point it is important to clarify one minor detail--which when considered more thoroughly is clearly quite major. While the CD is pulled from two different shows it's really two whole sections, one string of songs from November 6, and one string from November 7, 2003. The reason this is so critical is that half the fun with Panic is the means in which the momentum flows and how one song drops into the other. To yank one song from here and one from there, mixing up all these different vibes, would be a very difficult task if you wanted to maintain any sense of cohesion.

With 14 people on stage the swelling Night of Joy begins with "Thought Sausage." One of the strongest songs since guitarist George McConnell joined the band; it is certainly an appropriate way to start the CD. With the brass banging out the edges and George twisting the signature "Sausage" lick, the band takes it right into another new song, "Thin Air." Debuting on the 2003 release Ball, "Thin Air" has been in heavy touring rotation since it first popped up and receives strong treatment here.

A Family Affair at House of Blues, SC
By Tom Smith
It's at this point where things really take off as one of the funkiest bass lines ever put down starts to bubble up on Dave Schools' Modulus. There is no mistaking Bill Withers' "Use Me," and when John Bell steps to the mic the dirt starts to fly. With the horns spot-on as always, George owning the guitar sections, and that world-class percussion unit doing their thing, these eight minutes are truly remarkable.

Following "Use Me" the CD changes from one night to the other and kicks back in with "Bayou Lena." Probably the least interesting of the pack, "Bayou Lena" does have a strong side found in the nice guitar solo and strong vocal work by keyboardist JoJo Hermann.

Coming out of the ragtime New Orleans vibe of "Bayou Lena" JB take the lead again with another funky little number called "Old Neighborhood." The tight timing and slamming piano make this a real treat as the set pushes into "Bust It Big." If "Bayou Lena" doesn't pack the punch you're looking for out of JoJo, "Bust It Big" is his retort. One of--if not the--best new songs Panic has added to their arsenal, it's hard and dirty and full of life. As it builds and tumbles it seems to accentuate the new Panic in a way few songs have. JB shows his backup skills breathing nasty words over JoJo's back alley, short skirt vocals and George's smoke show guitar solos. If there is any complaint on this one it has to be that after the mind-bending vocal jam at the end they don't drop back in with the dark, funked-out Clav as they did on the November 1 version of "Bust It Big" in New York City. But considering we get the addition of all the swarming horns perhaps we break even on that one.

Widespread Panic with DDBB at House of Blues, SC
By Tom Smith
Obviously putting things into overdrive here, Schools signals "Arleen" and it's over the top from here out. The ten-minute horn-punctuated "Arleen" is the shining moment of this fine offering. A fan favorite forever, George has really found his way here and on this fine evening JB took it way outside. Switching out words, rapping about that 16-year-old neighbor girl and throwing on sunglasses, JB starts to spin a tale. As he's catching a glimpse through the window all of a sudden the old time favorite "Ribs and Whiskey" starts to mix with "Arleen" and before you know it he's "Seen your little girl naked, swear it wasn't nothing I tried to see." Grinding Panic funk sets the stage as JB bleeds it; "Papa's got a gun, you better get flat." Both instrumentally and vocally this is perhaps the best "Arleen" the band has put down since Mikey passed away.

Finishing off this nasty back-end trio of songs after "Bust It Big" and "Arleen" is Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." Only the second time it's ever been played they nail it to the basement door, and do King Stevie proud. Although they could of let this one ride for a few more minutes, the seven-minute dance party is full of smiles and hip-shaking good times.

The final track is a Panic staple, and a wonderful way to end the family gathering that was put on this CD. "Rebirtha" opens up for over 17 minutes and features psychedelic guitar madness, horn washes, bass bombs, the whole shebang. There are points where the song takes on a completely new life and only shows shreds of past versions. With George finally becoming comfortable enough to take songs in new directions and the addition of the Dirty Dozen, including guitarist Jamie McLean, this "Rebirtha" goes space-bound and shows a very healthy Panic wrapping up a very enjoyable piece of music.

Having just really begun to click as a new band after the devastating loss of founding member Michael Houser back in 2002, Panic shows on Night of Joy that there will be great things to come when they re-from after their time off. Until then it's side projects, new bands and a few new releases.

Night of Joy just hit the streets on March 23; click here to get your copy.

The Kayceman
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 3/25/04]

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