Gearing up on a chilly Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, I was about to embark on a new journey, my first Widespread Panic show. For somebody who has been seeing live music consistently for twenty years now, it came as a shock to those around me I have avoided, unintentionally, Widespread Panic for all these years.
This show came at the end of a week where WSP got nothing but bad publicity, from Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Silvers of Orange Beach, AL admonishing The Wharf for booking them on a holiday weekend due to the “floppiness” and unruly behavior of their fans, to a local news affiliate in Washington DC, discussing the rampant use of nitrous oxide outside of the concert only days before.
Albeit, Spreadheads, as the die-hard WSP fans are commonly referred to do have a reputation for enjoying their booze and getting rowdy. I guess I’m going to have to go see WSP in the south if I want to encounter that type of behavior, because at the newly renovated Kings Theater in Flatbush, Brooklyn the fans seemed to be on their best behavior this Friday evening.
- As I showed up to the venue there were no signs of a party taking place anywhere in sight. The crowd was adhering to the instructions of venue personnel and everyone was filling the theater in an orderly manner.
- Walking inside the Kings Theater is like entering a palace, newly renovated and pristine. Dwarfing the antiquated look of the Beacon or the glamour of Carnegie Hall. It looked like a palace on the inside, not the type of place you would want 3,200 wasted and unruly Spreadheads.
- Most people were coming from their jobs and seemed to be grabbing their first beer of the day just before showtime. Maybe I would see a different side of the crowd towards the end of the show, but at this point everyone was dressed nicely and seemed ready to enjoy some music.
- The venue couldn’t have been more accommodating as everyone I came with, mostly WSP veterans, were able to spend the whole evening together, dead center, fifteen rows back from the stage. This was a good thing for me, I always had a little birdie to give me background on the song they were playing.
- As the lights went down and the band took the stage, the energy that filled the room was reminiscent of what I normally experience at a Phish show, a band I have been seeing for over fifteen years.
- Dave Schools lights his first cigarette of the night, take a few drags, and places it into an ashtray on top of his amp. They let you smoke in here? Only if you’re in the band I assume.
- Second song in “Travelin Light” by J.J. Cale. Hey I know this song, and these guys really do it justice, while putting their own spin on it.
- Jimmy Herring and Duane Trucks drive this band, they both have a commanding presence and seem to play off each other flawlessly. Wait, they’re not original members? What did these guys sound like before… They sound excellent now.
- John Bell’s voice has that perfect amount of southern twang to remind you this is a southern rock band, but not too much where you think this is just a glorified country rock band. Allman Brothers-esque but completely different.
- WOW! The Kings Theater has cup holders, I bet this is the classiest venue WSP has ever played. Friend whispers in ear “This is nothing, you have to see Widespread Panic in the south.”
- Dave Schools lights another cigarette.
- The energy in the crowd is growing with every passing tune, the collective smiles and bright eyes are evident of two things, people passed on the $14 beers for hallucinogens and WSP plays a consistently excellent rock show night in and night out, they seemed flawless, tight, and in tune with what the fans wanted.
- Even the jams seem composed, short, and tight. Nothing like other bands that just take songs for a ride for twenty plus minutes into a far off territory, then bring it back to right where it started. They may just be more of a great rock band than a jam band.
- Dave Schools lights another cigarette.
- “Chilly Water” is a great song, if it were at a festival… outside… in the dead of summer… I bet the red-headed woman next to me would have loved the nearly full bottle of water dumped over her head by the wasted girl behind her. Unfortunately, we were inside, on a 30 something degree night in Brooklyn. She was offered a whiskey to compensate and even the empty water bottle to throw. The two blonde girls next to her almost started a cat fight, but cooler heads prevailed, “It’s just “Chilly Water”” a reasonable gentleman said. In my opinion this is a thousand time better than to be hit in the back of the head with glowsticks, my least favorite Phish tradition. Once again told “You want to see some shit thrown during “Chilly Water” go see WSP in the south…”
- I hope this venue has a great system for smokers during setbreak, because I didn’t see one in the venue the entire first set. Shocker… They didn’t; trying to corral 3,000 tipsy WSP fans into a one in one out system to go outside to smoke almost incited a riot. Luckily they gave up on this policy rather quickly. Panic fans like to smoke as much as Dave Schools does.
- Everyone is back in there places as set break comes to an end. Halfway to the finish line. Through first set have nothing but respect for the Spreadheads, seems like 30% of the crowd traveled from afar to see their favorite band. On another note, these guys rock and I am really enjoying everything about the show. The music, the venue, the crowd, even the drunk girl who dumped water on our heads, everything is working in perfect harmony.
- Widespread Panic comes back on stage; Schools lights another cigarette. I probably wouldn’t be making such a big deal about it but, first off, he smokes a lot, second, I can’t believe the venue allows it, they just spent ninety-five million dollars renovating this place.
- The band brings the energy from to start and gets the crowd right back into it.
- Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” another song I know. Interesting I have been just as captivated by WSP’s originals that I have never heard before as with the cover’s I know every word too. This is usually a good sign, while most people get lost in all original music they are not familiar with.
- Bell & Schools are amazing musicians and talented entertainers, but Herring and Trucks are powerhouses. The bring the type of musicianship that would propel any band to the next level.
- This very large man behind us has obviously had too many, and may topple over at any moment. Fans politely move him out to the aisle and security walks him to the back. I’m beginning to think Mayor Silvers of Orange Beach has no clue what he is talking about.
- “Up All Night” is an extremely catchy song, and got everyone involved in a sing a long from the first chord. Well everyone but me, but I faked it because I was having such a good time.
- Another cover, and another song I know, Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”. The song choice has been stellar up to this point, originals and covers alike.
- During “Bust It Big” the band went into full on jam mode. Finally leaving the structure of a song completely behind and taking us to another realm, where still Herring & Trucks led the way.
- Panic does an excellent job of keeping the energy level up, not a conscious person in the house was sitting deep into the second set.
- “City Of Dreams” encore! I love this song, and Bell does a great job of singing it. One more stellar cover to close out the night.
- Oops, I’m wrong, a little ZZ Top to close with “Waitin’ For The Bus” seems like an appropriate band for WSP to cover, given their shared southern roots.
- Wrong again, one more ZZ Top tune to close out the night. “Jesus Just Left Chicago” had me singing at the top of my lungs only hearing Bells voice ringing out over my own.
I had a fantastic time seeing Widespread Panic for the first time and have to wonder what took me so long. Maybe, if I saw them in a previous incarnation, with different band members, I would not of enjoyed them as much. I relate this experience to seeing an Elephant at the zoo, no matter how remarkable it is, it would obviously be better to see it in its natural habitat. I am hoping my next Widespread Panic experience can be south of the Mason-Dixon line, in their natural environment.
Dave Schools lights another cigarette.