PANIC AT THE GREEK: PEDALING THE CYCLE

Widespread Panic :: 07.08.05 - 07.10.05 :: Greek Theatre :: Berkeley, CA

The Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California ranks up there as one of the best venues in America. Perhaps not as striking as Red Rocks or The Gorge, and certainly not as loud and overwhelming as our favorite indoor haunts, but with enough history and atmosphere to make it a "must attend" venue each and every summer. Add Widespread Panic to the equation and all of sudden you have a dynamic combination capable of pulling emotions and sparking fires.

At about the mid-way point of their Summer Tour, Panic set up shop for a three-night stand at The Greek. In consideration of the importance of this tour (their second since returning from a fifteen-month break) and the relationship that the band shares with the venue, JamBase offers you an extended look at the event. Kind of like Panic giving you a "Chilly Water" > "Second Skin" > "Chilly Water" combo, we offer up two seasoned Panic vets - Andy Tennille and Aaron Kayce, wrapping around a relative new comer - and I use that word loosely - Deanne Herman, in order to give our readers the full range of emotions and the complete story. Consider this a JamBase Sandwich, we hope you enjoy our take of Panic at the Greek.

DAY ONE :: 07.08 :: ANDY TENNILLE

1,075 days, friends.


George McConnell :: 07.09
Greek, Berkeley by Dave Vann
1,075 days since the last notes of "Travelin' Light" rang out at Berkeley's Greek Theatre on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July 2002, slamming the door on a three-night run that closed the first part of Widespread Panic's summer tour. George McConnell had taken over guitar duties for Michael Houser, who would succumb to cancer only a few weeks later. The late, great guitarist had returned home to Athens a few weeks before the 2002 Greek shows after courageously playing the first Bonnaroo festival and remaining on the road through the early part of the band's summer tour. Emotions ran high that weekend, both for the band and their fans. The Future was uncertain.

Fast forward three years. With a successful Spring tour under its belt that included appearances at Atlanta's Fox Theater, Radio City Music Hall in New York, and another legendary performance at Bonnaroo, the band arrived for a three-night run on the UCAL Berkeley campus to drop some knowledge just before the students began returning for the fall semester.

Friday's first set was pretty straightforward as the band warmed up the venue and the sun set over San Francisco in the background. "Chainsaw City" provided a nice rocking start, and the "Smokestack Lightning" was a nice nod to the Grateful Dead, who regularly covered the Howlin' Wolf tune and played it twice at the Greek in the mid-1980s. But the real highlight came at the back-end of the set with the "Surprise Valley" > "Aunt Avis" > "Tall Boy." Over the last few years, the intro to "Surprise Valley" has been a constant struggle for McConnell, never quite matching the tone and feeling of the frenetic flurry of notes that regularly erupted from Houser. George seems to have discovered his comfort zone on this tune now, not trying to quote Houser's solo directly but rather borrowing some of the phrasing and mixing in his own magic. The dark, menacing "Aunt Avis" was next, rearing its head for the first time on summer tour, and led into a rollicking, set-closing "Tallboy."


WSP :: 07.09 Greek, Berkeley by Dave Vann
The second set on Friday night is why you walk through the turnstiles. "Second Skin," one of the better new tunes that has emerged from the band's break, started the set off dark and dirty, anchored by a downright mean bass line from Dave Schools. "Travelin' Man" was pretty standard, and as the band wound down into the weightless, floating jam that teases the intro to "Vacation," Schools suddenly hit a booming bottom bass note, Sunny Ortiz's hands danced across his congas, and the familiar Hammond organ swell from JoJo Hermann surfaced. This was no tease - "Vacation" had arrived.


John Bell :: 07.09
Greek, Berkeley by Dave Vann
No one will ever sing "Vacation" like Houser, not even the remarkably talented John Bell. Houser's soft, lonesome vocals bobbing over the band's nautical backdrop were what set the song apart – "Almost 23 / Took a trip to the sea / Went down for a swim and the waves came crashing down on me / Turned to head back in / That's when I saw the fin / As panic grabbed my legs, you know, it pulled me in / I didn't see you were right next to me, but I'm so glad you could make it / With you by my side I might get back alive for my next vacation."

JB did an admirable job handling the vocals, and McConnell provided some nice guitar leads between verses. The band circled twice for the outro jam with McConnell at the helm, eventually descending into Todd Nance's rolling drum beat as Eric McFadden wandered onstage with mandolin in hand. From the ethereal ocean of "Vacation" came an intense "Rock" > "Fixin' to Die" that featured McFadden on fire. Almost two years since his infamous guest appearance on "Maggot Brain" at the Warfield in August 2003, the San Francisco-based P-Funk guitarist manhandled JB's mandolin, separately enraging George and JB to lead the jam to higher ground and eventually into "Fixin' to Die." Whenever he plugs in with Panic, McFadden is a sparkplug that sends a bolt of electricity through the band, leading the music in new and interesting directions.


Domingo 'Sunny' Ortiz :: 07.09 Greek, Berkeley by Dave Vann
"Hatfield" followed drums, and JB's rap on Charlie Hatfield, rainmaking, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the origins of the word "chillin" will be notorious for years to come. "Big Wooly Mammoth" was up next, and lighters, water bottles, and what looked to be some female undergarments rained down onstage. A crunchy cover of Neil Young's "Mr. Soul" closed the full-tilt second set.

If bringing out "Vacation" for just the second time since Houser's passing wasn't enough, "This Part of Town" as the first encore was yet another perfect choice. JB does a marvelous job handling the vocals on this Houser-penned original, and I would have walked away happy had it been the last song. But when Schools dropped into the bass line of the Bill Withers' classic "Use Me," the near-capacity crowd at the Greek sprang to life and danced into the funky night.

-Andy Tennille


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