Widespread Panic are some smart cats. They run a tight ship, their hearts are perpetually in the right place, and they have a damn fine business model. While taking a break was clearly more than necessary for these road warriors, they didn't just leave their rampant fan base alone in the cold. No, not at all. What they did was plan three live recordings to coincide with their absence. Again proving that they have a firm grasp on both what the fans desire and what the business needs, they chose live recordings from the end of their last tour prior to the "hiatus."
The final release of the live trilogy, the double disc Live At Myrtle Beach comes right as the band prepares to take the stage for the first time in a year and half (March 24th). Sure is a nice way to get those SpreadHeads foaming at the mouth. While Panic fans are deathly loyal, some are also fiercely critical, and these discs (like the first two in the series) would not simply be accepted as great music if they didn't live up to those high expectations. And as anyone who has followed the band since the death of Michael Houser will attest, these discs - and this run at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach back in November of 2003 - show incredible improvement.
To be blunt, the whole thing rests on George McConnell's shoulders. If he can continue to learn how to play by Panic's rules, well, then Panic may once again be able to Rule. Take "Don't Wanna Loose You" with special guest John Keane on pedal steel. About half-way through this 17-minute swamp fest, shit gets muddy, like the whole thing was dragged through honey. The interaction between John Bell, McConnell and Keane is enough to make the doubters believe. This conversation continues with an equally impressive "Dirty Business." Since the loss of Houser, WSP has had the most difficulty in the slower, more subtle areas of their sound, but deep inside the half-hour's worth of "Don't Wanna Lose You" and "Dirty Business," it appears that McConnell has learned to pull back a bit, to settle in and let the guitar talk, not just scream.
Disc II is all about the final three songs, which happen to be the triple-encore from the final night at Myrtle Beach. "Postcard" > "Bowlegged Woman" > "Chilly Water." That's as Panic as Panic gets. Again, we find the band playing like a band, not just tossing around solos and trying to keep the ball off the ground. JB throws a nice rap over the top of a "Bowlegged" that teases both a Tom Tom Club "Genius Of Love" and a John Coltrane "Love Supreme." This is as good as Panic has sounded in the Post-Mikey era.
One hopes this is a sign of things to come, and if Panic has shown us anything, they've proven that with a blue-collar work ethic and faith they can overcome anything. Don't kid yourself, Panic is coming back, and they sure as shit aren't gonna go the route of the Rolling Stones. Guess it's time to go to work again...
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