Words & Images by Jake Krolick
Widespread Panic :: 08.05 & 08.06 :: NTELOS Pavilion Portsmouth, VA
We are officially spent, our backs ache, voices are hoarse, legs are sore, and we have those unexplained bruises from dancing hard and banging into the backs of plastic seats. These are the battle scars we'll wear for the next few days as a remembrance of the music. It's been a number of years since I've felt like this after a Widespread Panic run, but it's damn good to feel this kind of pain again. I can't express how glad I am to have caught these shows with the line-up the way it currently is. There is a week left of Summer Tour. If you're a Panic fan who missed Michael Houser the second he left the stage, do everything in your power to see these shows.
Widespread Panic :: 08.05.06
The whole weekend experience in Portsmouth, VA was wonderful. Saturday evening was charged by a feeling of the past. The night and the music had Michael Houser channeled directly through it. By the end of the "Weak Brain, Narrow Mind," we realized we were witnessing something incredibly special. These feelings continued to hit us in wave after wave of Panic bliss. Seeing the band have so much fun and hearing them each express themselves in a space of musical comfort was a moment in the making for over four years. Honestly, every song elevated the mood, so by the time "Action Man" landed we thought our heads would explode.
Widespread Panic :: 08.05
(L to R): Holt, Ortiz, Keane, Bell, Schools
John Bell said it best later in the evening when he barked out the JBism, "Well aren't we having a wee bit of fun?" Bell was alive and kicking all night, tossing out his signature arm flourish like he was throwing feed to the chickens in the audience. His tender but weathered voice was a welcome cry both evenings. "Blight" was JB's chance to howl up at the half-moon sitting low over the back of the amphitheater. His voice will always touch a special place in our souls.
John Bell :: 08.05.06
Percussionist Domingo 'Sunny' Ortiz and drummer Todd Nance each played with incredible heart and a fluid grace unrivaled in the world of percussion. Each seamlessly wound thumps and punches into the evening of music. David Schools sported tan shorts and a sexy "Home Team" tee. He dropped almost as many smiles as he did blasts from his bass. He also sported some new speaker décor, including a Barron Von Richter car riding in the old Godzilla spot and a piece of silver "WO" bling.
John Keane was one cool cucumber all weekend, hanging back in the shadows only to pop out like some wonderful musical whack-a-mole adding perfect searing touches. His grin never ended, and I suspect it stayed around until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Jojo's mojo rode high and mighty. He banged the keys with a gusto we've missed, creating a hail storm of flame at the end of "Big Woolly Mammoth."
Widespread Panic :: 08.05.06
Sam Holt... WOW!!! Sam made me feel like I could wait a little longer for Jimmy Herring to jump on board. I love how Sam not only emulates Michael Houser's tone and aptitude to bend and stretch notes, but also his anti-rock star persona. He sat tucked-in on the left side of the stage, shy and unassuming. He interjected such amazing solos that we begged for mercy. Saturday night was gritty, raw, raging, and dark. During "Ride Me High," I vaguely remember seeing folks flipping the band off and screaming, "Why won't you let up!" Ahhh, it was just one of those wonderful Saturday evenings. The second set ended on such a wild note that the encore kick-off "Heaven," the normally slower Talking Heads ballad, was actually rowdy. It pulsed with an energy one only finds on a Saturday night. "All Time Low" ravaged any remaining muscles. Sam laid us out so hard that he definitely deserved to relinquish his crew duties and have someone else break down after the gig.
Sam Holt & Jojo Hermann :: 08.05.06
Sunday's pre-show music began with dub beats and some sort of wild air-raid siren. The validation we were looking for struck early and with a fury. Sam delivered like a mailman with a rabid dog on his heals, placing all the right notes before sending the "Holden Oversoul" screaming into the sunset solo of our dreams.
The rest of the first set had a funny pace; at least I had trouble aligning to the song placement. The strong moments that stuck out came during a long, sauced-up "Guilded Splinters" intro that featured some of the best drum and bass link-up I've heard in a while. The other was during "North." Sam Holt leaned into Keane and said a few quick words in his ear. Keane shifted over to John Bell, gave him a quick look as if to say, "Follow me," and Bell flashed that same look across to Dave. With a coax from Sam's guitar, it was on. He tore off into a wild jam with the rest of the band in hot pursuit. JB was so excited his legs started twitching in a subtle and less rhythmical Elvis-style move.
John Keane & John Bell :: 08.05.06
The set break was longer than Saturday, but the come-back was a one-two punch. "Slipping into Darkness" featured Steve Lopez (one wild drummer) joining Sunny on bongos to beat the hell out of the skins. The whole stage shimmied to the left with Schools sliding in front of Todd and Sam placing the squeeze on Keane. Sam and Dave locked eyes, sandwiching Bell and Keane in a musical hoagie. Keane and Bell went at it like school boys fighting for turf in the school yard. They locked axes happily, battling through the end of "Slipping into Darkness." There was a lot of pointing and smiling when it was done, and in a wink Sam let fly that classic opening dance into "Sleepy Monkey." The Panic session was very reminiscent of Fiddlers Green only instead of JB going into a "Three Little Birds" rap, Sam fed the monkey a Jagermeister and Red Bull, wildly winding the song through a wailing jungle. "Bowlegged Woman" found Keane, Bell, and Schools linking up as Dave slung the beast up on his shoulders for a trudge into the deep end.
Sunny & Schools :: 08.05
"Drums" started as it usually does, but soon took an unpredictable turn. Sunny was joined by four crew members: one in front of him, two between his percussion rig and Todd's kit, and another on Todd's kit. The drum session kicked into high gear around the tenth-minute when Sunny slid off the bongos and onto Todd's kit for a heated link-up with Dave. The moment ended with JB giving thanks to the four crew members, Sunny, and Schools. Having the crew join in the music really epitomized the meaning of Home Team. Sunday was all about the extended family. The second set powered through some amazing songs, including "Life During Wartime," a "Visiting Day" that had the whole crowd screaming "I'll be your best friend if you can get me high!, and a "Bowlegged" that rose up from a deep fiery chasm.
John Bell :: 08.05.06
The longer we listened, the more the excited we became. Another thought grew as well. It wouldn't be right to not pause and reflect for a moment on someone else. George McConnell had a really wonderful moment on this stage just a year ago. See, if it wasn't for George stepping up to keep the Panic spirit going, we might not have made it through one of the most difficult and trying times to get to this weekend. He was able to keep a smile and a feeling of reassurance that we could overcome some tough times. George, here's a tip of the hat in your direction. Thank you.
This past weekend and these remaining few shows leading through Chicago are priceless points in the chronicles of Widespread Panic. All day Sunday I heard people comparing Saturday evening to past years: '93, '95, '98. The emotions from my first shows in the '90s found a way to come rushing back into my life. On Sunday during the "Mr. Soul" encore, I tried to convince myself that I could somehow afford a grand to go to Chicago, another feeling I hadn't experienced with Widespread Panic for a number of years (the urge to drop everything and just find a way to the next show).
Sam Holt & Jojo Hermann :: 08.05
The future is most certainly uncertain, and whether you are sad to see George go, happy to see Herring enter, or just feel they shoulda given Sam a damn chance already, the fall will bring something new. But until then Sam Holt is on the squad and he's channeling a day we thought was gone. It's a sound you've heard before; it's the sound of the Home Team. It's the sound of Panic.
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