Widespread Panic :: 10.04.05 :: Mud Island Amphitheatre :: Memphis, TN

Words & Images by Brad Hodge

Widespread Panic :: 10.04 :: Mud Island, TN
"It's good to be back," exclaimed one excited fan while waiting in the long line to enter Memphis Tennessee's famous Mud Island Amphitheatre. Widespread Panic had not played the fan-favored venue since the summer of 1999, and with the years between a definite buzz about the band's return ran through the crowd.

Feeling fortunate to have made it down for one of the two nights, I hoped that Panic would come out and play to the occasion. After the "Thought Sausage" opener, I wasn't derailed or excited. I'm not really a fan of the song; however, it was well played and set the pace for an exuberant first set.

Dave Schools :: 10.04 :: Mud Island
About mid-way thru the set, many of the nuances that troubled me had been worked out. The refreshing breeze of the Mississippi River, the Gateway Bridge filling the sky, and friends gathered from all over the country had created an excitement that overwhelmed any disappointments in the way the show started. By the time John Bell began to spill his infamous "Hatfield raps," the band was in sync. Dave Schools began an onslaught of bass bombs during "Bowlegged Woman" that would continue to level the crowd throughout the beginning of a lengthy "Surprise Valley." The usual drum solo during "Surprise" was stretched out and served as the setlist-standard "drums" spot.

Certain songs throughout Widespread Panic's career have remained very elusive and extremely cherished. After the death of guitarist Michael Houser, many of these songs disappeared completely from the band's enormous array of material. "Vacation" has appeared a few times within the last year but remains a well-respected moment to witness. The sound will never ring as true without Mikey's touch, but his messages, so simplistic and pure, will always be a blessing to hear.

Bell & Nance :: 10.04 :: Mud Island, TN
The second set mixed things up a bit, with a heavy dose of new material anchoring the front end of the set. I have remained indifferent to most of the new material that has surfaced in the last year; however, since hearing "You Should Be Glad" at Austin City Limits and another great version here, I think it's safe to say that the song is on the way to becoming a great one. It has loads of potential and will probably be the basis for some monstrous jams. During "Nebulous," Schools continued to vie for the crowd's attention with a devilish bass line and a murky tone that sounded as if it was bubbling up from the river's muddy bottoms. Sunny Ortiz also fired up "Nebulous" with some exceptional percussion play. Then, the newer material gave way to some old favorites that were greeted with great appreciation. "Mercy" created a little breathing room for the upbeat crowd that seemed to have been gyrating since the opening notes. Next, the tempo kicked back up with a great cover of Danny Hutchens's "Makes Sense To Me." This is a song that the band always seems to play fairly well, and this night was no exception.

McConnell, Bell, Schools :: 10.04 :: Mud Island
"Pilgrims" followed suit and was one of the best songs of the evening. It always fits the mood to hear JB sing, "If it feels good, we shake," which always proves to be a true sentiment. Many fans stand divided on the sound and possibilities of Widespread Panic. I have some uncertain moments, but it still does feel good, great at times. The fact that they stumble and fall means there is room to grow. The sense of adventure, fellowship between friends, and passion for a party has not been tarnished, and this couldn't be stated any better than with a great "Pilgrims."

McConnell :: 10.04 :: Mud Island, TN
George McConnell took the honors of starting the night's encore with the easy to forget, "If You'se a Viper." Many of George's vocal additions have grown to be great new songs, but I still don't have a taste for this one. However, the "Barstools and Dreamers" that followed made up for the lackluster "If You'se a Viper." I'm not sure if "Barstools" has ever been played during an encore, not sure that it matters; however, the unusual placement was a welcome surprise. Bell stepped to the microphone as if to tear into a "Satisfied" rap, only to back away as if he missed his moment. Tricking most in attendance, the band struck up a third song to close the night. The staple cover of J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light" sent the rowdy crowd off into the warm evening air. Many of them would return for a second serving; however, I left comfortably knowing that the one night was well worth the effort. One of my favorite venues played host to another enjoyable outing, and the life of a Pilgrim goes on.

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[Published on: 10/19/05]

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