Fans are blessed by recent Widespread Panic Wood Tour

Blessed

Guest review by Andrew Mowery, photos by Harmony Chason,  Brad Hodge of www.bradhodgephoto.com & Fred Rice of Illusionsoflight.com

Panic en la Playa © www.bradhodgephoto.com

When Panic en la Playa was announced, we booked our trip immediately.  We knew the energy output would create the need for several truly relaxing days after the shows.  As a result, when the Wood Tour was announced, we found ourselves coming back into the States just 2 days before the shows at the Fillmore.

Having seen my share of acoustic sets, I thought I knew what to expect,  and with the advent of Couch Tour, I had a chance to listen to the shows in D.C. And Atlanta.  I have to admit that in the weeks prior to Mexico, I was so busy that the first Wood Tour shows were often background to other things.  I couldn’t really focus.  I’d catch half the first set, have to do something outside the house, and then come back in the middle of the second set.

Panic en la Playa

I liked the fact that things were being pulled off the shelf, and that they were playing new stuff too, so that became part of my expectations.  Still, having never really seen any fully acoustic shows, let alone acoustic runs, I was having a really hard time imagining how the song selection would work, what stuff would be just too hard to convert to acoustic, therefore written off as possible on the playlist.  I gamble on setlists too, so there’s yet another dimension to this crystal ball gazing.

So, after surviving our 20-person 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon’s ticket separation, with folks originating in 5 states, Deb and I focused on the task of selecting a place to view the show.  We anticipated that it would be jam-packed.  And, we had some trepidation about how that would affect the sound.

The Fillmore is an old ice rink, so the sightlines are weird.  The main floor section is actually lower than street level, and there is about an 8-foot elevation difference with the surrounding GA levels.

Dave Schools

It’s an asymmetric venue, with the left side dominated by VIP sections that are wide open, and boxes.  Additional open balconies finish out the left side, with a confusing set of ramps and mini-balconies beneath.  On the right side is one continuous flat area, with a VIP section with 4-top pub tables, with a rail separating the section from GA.  That leaves only about 1/3 of the rail available for GA direct viewing, elevated above the floor.

In the far back is a balcony that goes up into the rafters, literally.  It is multiple seating levels, that are simply carpet platforms, set at about 1-foot heights from row to row.  While there is a distance from the stage, it does have the unique aspect of being at the apex of sound, preserving the clear sightline to the stage, albeit a bit far for some eyes that are still in denial of needing glasses.  Ahem.

But, after considering the options, my crew decided to be the far-back balcony Little Lilly fans, jamming in the very last row.  Oh, I forgot to mention one other benefit – the very top row, for some unexplained reason, had couches.  Several couches, spread out across the top row.  When sitting in one, you could see the stage ABOVE the last rafter.  But, considering the more muffled sound higher up, it took on another function: free coat & poster check.  It was a bitterly cold night, and everyone had way more jackets than they’d usually take into the show.

Courtesy Illusions of Light

The show opened with From the Cradle, which I felt immediately was a sing-a-long.  And, having just heard the electric version down in Mexico, it was a great opportunity to compare and contrast.  But, from where we were sitting, the sound of JB singing nearly a capella was challenging for my ringing ears to hear over the voices of my brothers and sisters.

It was a good illustration of the dichotomy for why we come to the show.  Obviously, we have 6 men performing on stage.  But, and seasoned Panic fans know that there are thousands more performers in the room.  Usually, the overwhelming sonics from the speakers drown out the singing of all those who come to perform, excepting the most powerful pipes from a guy standing behind you.  This time around, however, even just the average voice was quite audible.

And, I’ll be the first to admit, we need to stop giving JB a hard time for not remembering lyrics.  Clearly, we all have mangled lyrics in our brains that interfere with hearing the real lyrics.  We have a friend who thought for a few years that thought one of the Blackout Blues lyric “Like a dark horse down the stretch” was actually “like two tacos down the strip”, until he was busted by his future wife whilst belting it out confidently at a show.

Courtesy Illusions of Light

Well, from the first song on, the songs that were sing-a-longs kind of exposed those of us who have these mangled lyrics stuck in our heads, or, even if we do have the right ones in our noggins, we fail to execute enunciation due to our excited, passionate, or inebriated states.  I’m not judging, mind you. I’m just saying, singing the refrain is one thing, but sometimes it’s better to leave the verses to the band.

Worry was the third song into the first set, and the first demonstration of how a fast-tempo song with a

truly lingering lead could be converted to acoustic.  But, this is one of those songs that for some reason garnered more respect from the fans in regards to singing – it seemed that most either didn’t really know the words, or just felt it was getting deeper into the show, and we were here to listen.

I felt I had respect, but in Worry is one of my personal favorite lyrics “Winter girls dressed for springtime, I know they’re trouble for sure!”  So, of course, I had to belt it out.  Pretty sure I was the only one in the balcony, and I could hear myself over the band.  It probably wasn’t fully appreciated by everyone in the balcony.   I knew my own wife even gave me the stink-eye a bit, even though she knows it’s one of my favorite lines.

Panic en la Playa

But, that is the thing.  I mean we all have T-shirts that have our favorite lyrics on them, and singing to each other these lyrics is part of what we do.  So, to me, part of the dilemma of Wood Tour was, to the best of our ability, put aside our personal need to perform when our favorites came up, and let the band play and sing, while we try something novel: just dance and listen.

It’s harder than it sounds.  Trust me.

So, as the night continued, there was an ebb and flow between sing-a-long, restrained singing, and silent dancing.  I think the encore, with Don’t Be Denied, finally put the crowd into submission.  Everyone wanted to hear that as clearly as possible, and from where I was sitting, it seemed like that magic had the effect of rewarding us for our quietness to teach the weekend’s first lesson: There’s power in 4000 people who are using to whooping it up, standing in respectful silence, still moving their bodies to the music, but trying as hard as possible not to make a sound.  It was the first song where I looked over to see people simply mouthing the words silently.

John Hermann

To me, it epitomizes the difference between going to see a Panic show, and virtually any other show.  The personal connection and respect for these songs is so deep, that once critical mass was reached for those recognizing that their own personal behavior was going to need to be different for these shows in order for them and those around them to get the full euphoria, it became the new normal.

But, clearly, there were moments where it was obvious that the appropriate thing for us all to do was to sing-a-long.  And, the last encore Chunk of Coal was a perfect example, on the heels of the opposite.  It felt wonderful to look around at all the folks we’ve known for 5, 10, or even 25 years and remember how we WERE just chunks of coal way back when, and while perhaps not quite diamonds yet, many of us are really beginning to shine.   I am proud of my people, and know many that have left more than their mark in their careers.

By Saturday, the paperless chaos had become just a slightly annoying routine.  It seemed like most

JB ~ Panic en la Playa
JB

people had reasons for their position in the venue.  Some just had to be up front for sound or sightline reasons, others fled to the far corners to avoid tighter quarters, some stood outside in the sub-freezing temps for hours to secure the extremely few elevated rail spots around the venue.  It seemed most found their home night one, and the few who didn’t adjusted their spots.

Having learned the lessons of night one, the Saturday show came much easier.  The show opened with Henry Parsons, which was definitely a sing-a-long, but still sounded quite the same as the electric version overall.  Maybe it’s because the lyrics really drive that song in the first place, but I do think it’s more because it’s a song that brings out the performers among the fans, particularly the scream-singers in our crowd.

Heaven followed, and this is again something that was notable in Mexico.  In Mexico, the appropriateness was obvious.  I found myself saying while standing on the beach that if there is a heaven, and it’s not as good as Panic en la Playa, I’ll be pissed.  But the Fillmore version evoked the weekend’s first time I felt the church-like connectivity with my brothers and sisters.  Magical moments that I always hope never end.

Courtesy Illusions of Light

When I saw Joel bring out the Resonator to JB ,which was obvious, even from the back of the venue, we had some speculation on what would be the played.  Shut Up and Drive was voiced by more than one.  And, it’s definitely one of the songs that not only highlights JB’s slide skills, but also his tremendous voice.  I know I’m not alone in thinking that JB’s voice just gets better and better as the years go on.

Aunt Avis was beautiful, and just perfectly suited for this tour.  I had mixed feelings when it started, mostly because I had put down Degenerate on my pick-list, and I felt another Vic Chestnut was unlikely for that night.

The highlight of the set for me was Let’s Get This Show on The Road.  Again, the song favors the acoustic setting, and JB just nailed it lyrically.  At set break, I heard more than one “best one I’ve ever heard” comments than usual at a show, and it seemed to be a theme for the weekend.  Mid-way through the weekend, for some of us, it was becoming apparent that this was something truly special and unique.

Dave Schools

I had heard from a friend who talks somewhat regularly with people in the band that this tour was really making them happy.  When I was just hearing shows over the Internet, and getting personal reviews down in Mexico from those that had been to the first two runs, I couldn’t really understand.  As always, it’s about the experience.

The second set on Saturday was really where we turned a corner.  Fishing was spectacular, and was a great catch for those who had been chasing it for years.   But, then it just didn’t stop.  One song after the next, suddenly, that feeling of being single-mindedly focused on the music was overwhelming.  Mercy was a tear-jerker, Jack turned that upside down into a huge grin that got even bigger for Ride Me High.

That’s where I realized that perhaps there really weren’t any boundaries.  I had heard that Chilly was originally an acoustic song they used to play on their porch, so I guess that we all have to remember that these songs start somewhere, and often it’s on an acoustic guitar.  We all get so mesmerized by the fancy effects that get applied to create the twisted sounds we all love, that we forget how good the foundation is – the original rhythm’s and chords that create the texture, flavor, and ambiance of these songs.

Driving>Papas>Driving>Breathing Slow proved that sandwiches were possible in acoustic sets, but also that the seamless transitions didn’t require long-sustained notes, noodling all over the place.  And, with Ribs and Whiskey, we once again got to hear JB command that shiny silver Resonator.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

The encore had to be intentionally funny.  Dang Me was identified by one of our crew whose Dad used to sing it to him.  Some of us later remembered that it was a staple on Hee Haw – a show some of our younger brothers and sisters may question its existence.  But, it wasn’t just funny for the selection or lyrics, but it was the debut of Todd playing the white 5-gallon bucket, which he proceeded to play for the remainder of the encore.

It was the next song, however, that confirmed my spiritual suspicions.  I love And It Stoned Me, and definitely like to sing it out loud.  But, this is where I personally felt it was my duty to shut up and dance, or more like sway for this one.  I didn’t shush anyone, nor did I witness any shushing.  But, clearly, by the end of the second show of the weekend, we “got it” collectively.  It’s my new definition of Respect.  Seeing 4000 people sway nearly silently to this song was moving to the point of tears.  It was beautiful.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

I felt like hugging the whole crowd at once.  I love my people.

So, to make sure we don’t get too serious, they sent us out the door with a Mr. Soul that was a raw and rowdy as any electric version I’ve heard them play.

I don’t remember where I first heard “never miss a Sunday show”, but I’ve never been one to do partial runs intentionally.   This one was no different.  They pulled stuff out that I had no way to anticipate, and frankly I could not believe were played – even days later.

Three songs in, I already had two from my 10-song pick list, so was feeling great about the show for gambling reasons.  Porch and Ain’t Life Grand got everyone hopping after a solid Hope in a Hopeless world.  We were back in the same spot in the far-back balcony again, thoroughly enjoying the elbow room so we could boogie.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

Time Waits For No One was one of those songs I came to see.  During electric shows, you can count on many to flock to the bathrooms, but this is the filling in the twinkie of shows like this.  How shocking (or not) was it that they followed with Time Waits.  Up in the balcony, there was some banter about how far they could run with this.  I called Time Zones, and laughed out loud when they actually followed the pregnant pause after Time Waits with the bomp-bomp that beings Time Zones.  But, that was the end of the “time suite” for the evening, no matter how hard we wished for things ranging from Pink Floyd’s Time to Time is Free, and everything between.  But it was not to be.

 

Courtesy Illusions of Light

Warren Zevon’s Carmelita was a nice cover, and having just heard it electric in Mexico the week before, it was interesting to still have the fresh memory of a new song available to compare and contrast.  Honestly, it’s one of those songs that sounds pretty similar in both of these Panic formats.

The first set finished out with True to My Nature, Visiting Day, and Makes Sense to Me.  I personally love True to My Nature, and found myself dancing has hard as I would to the electric version.  And, I couldn’t resist screaming a rebellious “I need a little riot in my diet I’M SICK OF PEACE AND QUIET and pleasantries” after holding back on so much else over the weekend.  The band is funny sometimes, to say the least.

 

Setbreak was memorable for all of the hugs from everyone we’ve seen this run with.  Our crew had great meals before and after the show at some new restaurants for us in Downtown Denver.  Avenue Grill, Tom’s Diner, The Irish Snug, Pete’s Kitchen, and Stueben’s all served us incredible food.  One of the things I love most about touring with Panic folks is that I get introduced to so many great things as we’ve traveled.  And, it just adds to the bonding that we experience during the shows.  As I think back through the years, there are runs where there are meals that were as memorable as the shows – and not just because we weren’t yet drunk!

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

I’ve never found myself longing for longer until this show.  While I’ve learned how to live in the moment through the years, there’s part of me that knows that some of the people at the show I may not see for some time – even if rumors of a New Year’s show are true.  It’s been since 2004 since I’ve had a summer without a Red Rocks run.  My summer schedule revolves around that as permanently blanked out weekend, if not week before and after (depending on who rolls into town!).

Yet, I also know that some of the friendships that we’ve built through this community over the years just means we expand our experiences to include just about anything.  The sense of family grows stronger every year.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

This is why, when the second set of this once-again-amazing show started with Surprise Valley, I felt that the somewhat widely held belief that this is our church was demonstrably true.  Surprise is literally a spiritual song, particularly with lyrics like “the spirit moves through all things”.  It gives me chills every time.  And, you’ll never forget the first time you hear a Colorado crowd belt out a “Kiss the mountain air we breathe!”

But, of all songs, Pilgrims really tops my personal spiritual song list.  It captures the heart of what drives us to travel to faraway places, just to hear sweet guitar licks, beats, and lyrics that make us shake our bodies till we are ready to collapse.  We are modern-day, high-tech, jet-set pilgrims, and we’ll drive thousands of miles, through raging storms, across continents and time zones, sometimes by the hair of the dog that bit us close to missing flights, just to experience these moments.  Together, with friends we know, and friends we have yet to know.  And, it’s magic.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

I had ordered fried chicken at Stueben’s earlier in the afternoon with intention.  And, not just to squeal “I LOVE my chicken . . . in a TREE” while sitting in one of their booths.  I had seen Contentment earlier in the tour, and really wanted to hear the acoustic version.  I even put it on my gambling pick list.  And, then swapped it out for Porch in version 3 because my friend Dean said it was extremely unlikely.  He was first to console me as it started to be played.

I think one of the things that made us all think that an acoustic tour would limit the setlists was what we perceived to be the inability to play long-sustained notes we have known as the “lingering lead”.  What the band has shown in this tour is that there are ways to both adapt songs to have similar progressions without losing the feel, cadence, or continuity of the song.  And, this set was proving to move the boundaries far beyond at least what I had imagined.  It’s why, when you think of all of Jimmy’s

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

career accomplishments, I find that there are too few people that realize just how versatile a guitarist he really is.  Just when you think you’ve heard all he can do, things like this come around.

Let’s Roll was a new free form barroom jazzy JB rap song that followed Contentment.  JoJo was plinking on the keys, while JB’s howl had maximum vibrato.  It was a quick ditty, but one that is a gem years from now I know we’ll continue to come back and listen to.

I could not believe what came next, though.  Low Spark never even crossed my mind when I was picking my songs for gambling.  I had used Burnthday’s cheat sheet to prepare, and I skipped by this under the presumption that it just was impossible.  It wasn’t.  And, to be honest, after listening to it after the show, I’m gonna say it sounds like it felt at the show – one of the best versions ever, electric or acoustic.  JB’s voice was clear and JoJo’s keys were crisp and energized.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

It should be noted that JoJo was on fire all weekend, and really shined more than he has in years.  I think while it’s true that his sound is often lost in much louder guitars when they are electric, there was an element of exceptional effort too.  He really seemed to be nailing every song, and standing out, even where you might not expect him to stand out.

It was the moment when I realized that my presumption that the acoustic sets might not be able to lift my spirit to the point where it felt out of body was just wrong.  And, to continue the spiritual theme, we of course get the lyric “the spirit is something that no one destroys”.

And, before we can even catch our breath from that surprise, they burst into a wonderful Airplane, turning our spiritual journey into imagery of flying and angels.  The acoustic presentation is so perfect to highlight the simple melody that hooks you until, once again, Jimmy gives us the feeling of soaring without using a pedal or any distortion boxes.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

As long as we were up in the air, it made complete sense to transition into Dream Song.  I had this on my list, and it’s one of my all-time favorite songs, as a lifelong lucid dreamer.  I, and many others who have deep respect for this song, were mouthing the words once again, hoping to hear as clearly as possible the guitar interplay from all three guitars.  And, for a spiritual message, “”you know you will, because you’ve lived so many lives before” is about as direct and powerful as it comes.  For me, at least.

 

I had been pulling for Degenerate as my Vic Chestnut cover all weekend, but was more than willing to set aside those hopes this evening to get a rendition of Blight that I was quite surprised they put on the list.  It’s one of the songs that Schools has a more prominent singing role, and I had heard he was so sick starting on Saturday that he basically slept all day Sunday to be ready for the show.  There’s the cliché “the show must go on”, but Dave clearly overcame and performed memorable version of a song that is spiritual, albeit a bit darker.

Traveling Light was a nice bookend to our spiritual journey, once again leaning on JJ Cale this weekend.  Todd’s metronome drums mesmerize me every time, even if he was put into an acrylic pair of fishbowls, along with Sunny, so they didn’t drown out the guitars in the front row.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

Blackout Blues closed the set, perhaps as the either the antidote or sense of humor by the band to a set filled with songs that had a sense of seriousness or reverence – at least for those of us who apply labels of “church” to shows like this.  Blackout is also one of those songs for my crew where we prefer to sing our mangled lyric from our friend – “like two tacos down the strip”.

If nothing else, the Wood Tour has delivered a solid expectation for 3 encore songs, probably due to the overall short duration of the show.  And, while I can recall waiting 20-30 minutes for an encore at shows long ago, these came rapidly.

At the Las Vegas Summer 2011 Tour closer, Mateo, Jimmy’s guitar tech was taking a break up in the

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balcony to see a few songs from the show where me and my crew and I were dancing.  He told me that night that there was going to be something special for Jimmy’s wife in the encore.  It turned out to be When You Coming Home.  So, that is immediately what I thought of when they played it this night.

Well, that, and our cats.  From the moment we first heard this song on the CD, we thought it was the song that in the eventual Broadway Musical of Deb’s and my life, would be sung by our cat Wilson when we went on tour.  It’s so sweet and forlorn, and once again perfect for acoustic adaptation.

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Jimmy Cliff’s Many Rivers To Cross is a new song to me, and I think it’s just a perfect for the end of this wonderful 25th Anniversary Tour.  I know there’s a few out there who for the past year have been focused on the end.  I find this song to be a message back to us that is about the hope of the future, even if we feel like we are losing something.  I think it’s also worthy to note JB changes the lyrics from “my woman left me and she didn’t say why.  Well I guess I’ll have to cry” to “Ill have to TRY”.  He repeated it, so I know it ain’t just a JBism.  I think it was intentionally a twist to make it sound more hopeful.  It’s my hope, at least.

And, it works on me.  I don’t think of a second this is the end of anything, except a long 7-year continuous run of touring that deserves at least a break for the band.  There’s still plenty of rivers to cross when they come back, and I plan to be tanned and rested.

Panic has always used setlist selection to send messages to us.  Those that gave me my Panic educations

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were always quick to point out the reasons why things were played.  How fitting it was, then, that they concluded this run in Denver with The Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.  I know there were many people disappointed that they didn’t get to go to Mexico to see what at the time we thought might be the last shows for a long time.  By disappointed, I mean devastated.
Couch Tour certainly has evolved to be the way for all of us to share the experience of being at the show with all the comforts of home at our fingertips.  Streaming music to our iphones, and even on airline planes at 30,000 feet is just beyond belief when you consider where we all were 15 years ago.  But, none of this makes up for how it feels to be away from the show when you really want to be there.

© www.bradhodgephoto.com

And, being one of the immeasurably lucky ones to get to Mexico, I have to admit I wasn’t as excited to come back to the Fillmore, in the freezing Colorado temperatures (and it was exceptionally cold, considering the balmy January we had in Colorado) when they were first announced.  And, once in Mexico, it was hard to imagine anything as great as that experience.  I mean, I was in the ocean seeing how tall I was for Proving.  IN THE OCEAN.

Yet, this encore delivered that message loud and clear.  Not only was this Fillmore run top-notch in terms of sound quality and song selection, it could even be argued to be a hair above what we got down in Mexico.  But the message was a spiritual message to all of us about wanting and needing.  I had come into the weekend a bit skeptical, and walked out a born again believer.  My faith in the power of this music, and for the band to exceed my expectations was once again lifted to heights I didn’t know existed.  I thought I had seen it all, and been proven wrong again – there appears to be no end to novelty with Widespread Panic.

It was deep, yet fun as hell.  Love permeated the building, and I can tell you I was brought to tears more than once.   I’ll never forget this run, and I am sure there are a few thousand folks in that room who would agree with me.  It was worth everything we overcame. I think this will be as legendary a tour as Sit and Ski when we sit around and reminisce for the 50th Anniversary Tour, should we all live long and lucky.

To summarize the entire experience in one word: blessed.

 Editors Note: Special thanks to Harmony Chason, Brad Hodge of www.bradhodgephoto.com & Fred Rice of Illusions of Light for the cool photographs for this review.


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