Widespread Panic | October 22, 2010 | Greek Theatre | Los Angeles, CA

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Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by by Colin Vereen

Floating steadily in the jam band stream, Widespread Panic are true negotiators of musical peaks and valleys. Isolatable yet cohesive, you could say they’re a hybrid comprising one part Grateful Dead, one part Allman Brothers Band, one part…fill in the blank. But that’s an unwarranted oversimplification.

To the uninitiated, they’re a Southern band with a scintillating groove. Not quite as wacky as Phish, not as stringent to the tradition as the Dead or the Allmans — yet as daring as any of them. In the midst of their 2010 Fall Tour, Widespread Panic shook the rafters at the Greek for the season’s second to last show. Cloudy skies above, not a dry eye in the house, and hardly anyone sat down.

Having seen Furthur in September (short review: “Unbroken Chain” and Morning Dew” were spectacular, but the Greek and its parking lot were overrun with über Deadheads 15 years too late for the party), I wasn’t sure if a Panic attack would bear quite the same impact .Indeed, in smaller measures, the show had a more intimate feel, but the intensity was just as vibrant and the fans were just as passionate.

“Goin’ Out West,” a suitable opener, set the Greek ablaze as heads bopped and bodies tumbled. But the incendiary riff that drives “Can’t Get High” kicked the momentum up a notch. As one of Widespread Panic’s more commercially known songs, “Can’t Get High” provided the night’s first glimpse of Jimmy Herring’s incomparable guitar work. Replacing founding member, the late Michael Houser, Herring is a highly respected musician in his own right who’s played with members of the Allmans and the Dead.

Elsewhere, John Bell vocally meandered through the verses, while the rest of the band filled the spaces and marched forward. There was keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann at the ready, adding textures and bite-sized solos. His clavinet vamps, especially on “Radio Child,” stirred up the audience and swabbed the set with funkified goodness.

Jimmy Herring

But beware the undertow. The Panic’s secret weapon lies in its rhythm section. Dave Schools, a man of the mountain and a mountain of a man, plucks down the low end with a six-string bass that anchors the tunes during frequent flights of fancy. Behind him are percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz and drummer Todd Nance. Between these two, the Panic’s pace is a rapid fire ready, a festival of timbales, tom toms, cowbells and other percussive accoutrements that go bump in the night.

Overhead, a full moon hid narrowly beneath cumulus clouds. The cool evening air was tossing and turning, but a showering of penetrating lights and a pulsating beat pumped life into the Greek. After “Protein Drink” and “Sewing Machine” wound up the hour-long first set, the brethren waited in vain, salivating for more.

Numerous bathroom and beer breaks later, the second set blasted off just before 9:00. The Greek’s curfew tonight was 10:30 and the Panic intended to absorb every minute with a ferocious blend of sound and sights. “North” stomped through, shaking the audience down to its core before the fluttering lines of “Saint Ex” wormed and wiggled through the subterfuge, overtaken by “Chilly Water.”

At center stage, Bell intoned the lyrics with an emotional fuse, whining the words, feeling the pull of each stanza before segueing into the chorus. Herring and Hermann capably embellished the melodies as Schools, Ortiz and Nance gunned the accelerator. This was Widespread Panic at full throttle, creating a wall of sonic density you simply couldn’t escape.

From the elegant piano of “This Part Of Town” to the hard-driving “Love Tractor,” Widespread Panic never failed in keeping the crowd enraptured and involved. By the time the two-song encore of “None Of Us Are Free” and “Ain’t Life Grand” came rolling down to the finish line, the energy level had ascended into the hills that surrounded the venue. High fives and hugs with strangers were passed around like glowing doobies. Fall was upon us, but it felt like spring and a lovely night for rock and roll. Life is indeed grand.

John Bell and Dave Schools


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