What a difference a year makes. For the weather at least. The band, Widespread Panic, was steady as always. But instead of tempting the dark ominous clouds by playing Hatfield, which resulted in a show-shortening electric storm at their Artpark show in 2014, 2015 was nothing but blue skies and sunshine. The show was both the opening of Artpark’s summer concert series as well as the opening show of Widespread Panic’s summer tour. Both were dialed in like it was midseason. It is difficult for a venue to capture the full breadth of sound that the 6-member jam rockers bring, but Artpark was up to the task, presenting incredibly crisp sound all night, especially for an outdoor space.
As a fan of the band since the early 90’s, going into a show these days, I am hoping to hear the old Panic classics. Since I’m only seeing about one show a year, if that, the newer songs haven’t really entered my vocabulary. The boys delivered on that wish in spades with the first set they put together. The show opened “Traveling Light,” “Weight of the World,” “Can’t Get High,” “Ride Me High” and it wasn’t until a mid-set “Shut Up and Drive” that saw a song which was debuted after 2000. After that blip, it was right back in the saddle with a one two three punch to the jam gut with classics “Pilgrims,” “Space Wrangler” and a massive “Greta” that saw guitarist Jimmy Herring flexing his jazz and prog rock muscles. Playing flurries of time-shifting notes that were difficult to comprehend, the jam reached multiple peaks. Dave Schools reined it in, leading the band smoothly into the Jerry Joseph-penned anthem, “North.” John Bell appropriately sang, “I go North, the sun it hurts my eyes” as the crowd shielded their eyes with the burning orb setting slowly behind the stage. Paired with last year’s storm-predicting Hatfield, seems like the band is reading the weather report as closely as the fans. In one of the more surprising moments of the night, “North” included a get down and funky segment led by JoJo Herman on the organ, before a set-closing big rock finish.
Second set, on paper, was what I fear. Dreaded new songs. Even 15-year-old songs, like set-opening “Second Skin” is new in my mind. But “Second Skin” was a fine opener, with Herring again taking control and exploding through his solos while Bell kept his own, proving he is one of the more inventive rhythm guitarists on the scene. A stop-on-a-dime dropout into their funky “Rebirtha” got the crowd singing along in glee, while Herring again was the shining star on stage. That transitioned into “Cotton Was King,” another new-ish tune that actually didn’t stick out as such. The band finally stopped for a breather before kicking into “Henry Parsons Died,” the second song of the evening written by their Bloodkin pals Danny Hutchens and Eric Carter. A wonderful spacey jam then bled into a brand new tune, “Cease Fire.” This one took a journey that started in late-era Talking Heads, mixed in a little samba flare, moved into a segment that harkened early Genesis, before finishing off with a stretched out mellow jam reminiscent of the ending of “Layla.” Intriguing to say the least and amazing to see this veteran outfit, whom I wished only to see the classics, was still full of new and exciting surprises. But wait, Widespread Panic still had more “new” up their sleeve. “Cease Fire” ceased slowly and effortlessly into “Jamais Vu.” A slinky bass-led groover that melted into the spaciest jam of the evening, with Herring weaving drawn out notes in between Herman’s trickling clavinet playing. After the drums segment, a strong “Surprise Valley” gave them one last opportunity to show that they are the masters of the segue. “Rock” emerged and served perfectly in the requisite heavy-finish role.
After playing two by their buds from Bloodkin, Panic evened the score, encoring with “Chainsaw City,” the second Jerry Joseph tune of the night. On right at 6:30pm, off right at 10:00pm, they jammed Artpark with as much of their jam as they were allowed, making up for last year’s short show as well as they could.
Set 1: Travelin’ Light, Can’t Get High, Weight Of The World, Ride Me High > Shut Up And Drive, Pilgrims, Space Wrangler > Greta > North
Set 2: Second Skin > Rebirtha > Cotton Was King > One Arm Steve, Henry Parsons Died > Cease Fire > Jamais Vu > Drums > Surprise Valley > Rock
Encore: Chainsaw City