27 March 2007

Nedstalgia: 10 Years Ago

March gave me my 1st Phish and my 1st Duo, but perhaps my favorite March music of all time
was 10 years ago this week. Read on for one more rambling incoherent episode of Nedstalgia -- Widespread Panic 97.

[Download (SBD's) Reno Set II: (part 1 part 2) and the 3/29 show: (part 1 part 2 part 3) as well as click any live links below for individual tunes. If you prefer, you can open a new window and stream 3/29 courtesy of PanicStream.com or either of these two EC Podcasts featuring some snippets of the 3/27 show]

I remember when I graduated from college I was lamenting to a friend how going to grad school was the end of my die hard music-seeing days -- time to buckle down and get to work, right? My buddy scoffed at the idea: instead of road trips and crashing on random floorspace, he said, you'll hop a flight to this city or that, catch a couple Phish shows and head back. Of course, he was right, with most of those trips spent continent-hopping with Widespread Panic. The first of many of these was my first left-coast jaunt during the very first spring break of graduate school.

The plan was a quick 3 shows in Santa Cruz and San Francisco with a full day of farting around in the latter, having never been to California. This trip also marked one of those random internet hookups -- "Yankee seeks ride" -- where I was putting my faith in accommodations from a gang I had never met before in the pre-cell phone days of yore. Of course, that all worked out swimmingly, got picked up no problemo (save for some too-stoned/too-fast cruising by our driver along a densely-fogged PCH) at the airport in Frisco and headed along the coast to Santa Cruz.

The 3/26 Santa Cruz show could best be summed up as bizarre. It's actually a pretty famous, or maybe that's infamous, show. The venue was the "auditorium" but it had the feel of a small college gymnasium, complete with the hardwood floors and folded bleachers on the side. I don't remember too much about the show itself, in fact this might be one of the few times I've checked out the setlist in the last 10 years. To put it mildly, this show was a mess. If you know anything about Santa Cruz 97, you know that Sunny was out to lunch, out of his wits and out of control. Throughout the show he was completely off rhythm, swirling in his own head and shouting nonsense into his microphone... which was eventually shut off. This threw the entire band off, like they were trying to play baseball with their throwing arm tied behind their back. Mikey got lost on multiple occasions -- I distinctly remember the Diner where the entire band made a relatively standard change after a guitar solo and Houser just kept... right... on... going measure after measure. Got ugly on more than one occasion. Overall it was enjoyable merely on the level of spectacle: both the fragile balance and the incredible fortitude of Widespread Panic were on display that night in Santa Cruz.

After this show I hooked up with my ride but was also urged by BTan to change horses midstream and forgo my lazy day of cable cars and Golden Gate Bridges for a detour to Reno. The cards were on the table: I didn't have to worry about a ride, a ticket or a place to crash; get in the car; what could be bad? Was it fate, luck or just common sense? Really, there was no choice, I got into that crammed cruiser with a new set of mostly strangers -- Nevada bound!

It is a 24 hour stretch I'll never forget. There was much booze, much blackjack, zero sleep and, of course, Widespread fucking Panic. From the moment we got to the Hilton, I was playing blackjack. The Ballroom entry was at the end of the gambling hall, so I played some cards and then waltzed 50 feet to the venue. The room was a trippy lounge with seemingly no straight edges. The kind of spot where Wayne Newton might have held court decades ago or today even. Reno is a city that seemed perfectly suited to Widespread Panic: dirty, under-appreciated, unadulterated fun, fun, fun.

I snuggled up to the stage, right smack belly-up in the SchoolsZone. The dealer flipped a 6 and I split my aces. Yeah, the show was fucking hot. Go download that shit (setlist here). There are certain songs Panic only plays when they're feeling it and almost the entire Reno setlist was comprised of those tunes. It wasn't dirty, it was downright filthy and the boozy, anything-goes energy in the room, that wild, funky room, did nothing but add kerosene to the tire fire. You can pick out tunes one by one if you need to, that Ain't No Use > Chilly > drums > 4 Cornered Room > Jack > Chilly section is where I'd start, but really this was a cohesive spiraling mindfuck. Not so much a show as an experience. With the second set being one of those stretches where the dealer keeps busting over and over -- everyone's a winner!! The audience was that collective blackjack or craps table on a serious roll. I think I have so much trouble picking out memories of Santa Cruz because this was like the mind eraser show, the one that reset the bar for me. When the band finally sinks into that evil, swimming Four Cornered Room and JB is just a shade away from all-out howling you know you've stumbled into something special. Sometimes it's just the right place, the right night and the right stuff. And to think, I was all set to skip this thing.

Lucky ducky then. As JB howled "Good luck at your final destination!" we filed back out into the casino. I found may way to a table after the show and resumed my gambling, almost like the show didn't happen. But it did happen, it did. Just part of the stream, though, as I proceeded to have one of the more miraculous stretches of blackjack of my life. I was in such a zone amassing red, then green then black chips like a machine. At one point I was one-on-one with the dealer betting $100 a hand and within minutes of complete haze was up a couple grand and ready to walk away. Of course, on my way to the cashier, I couldn't help but throw down a chip at another table and continued on like that, cycling through in near-madness until the crew came down for breakfast. It's a good thing I'm poor enough and smart enough not to gamble too regularly, because I was an ugly disturbed card player in that early morning of 3/28/2007. I could have walked away with a couple rent checks in my pocket, but was happy enough to leave with enough to pay for my entire trip and eggs for me and BT before heading west once again. And to think, I was all set to skip this thing.

The Warfield is another experience -- there are rooms like it around the country, but there is nothing quite like it, is there? We were lucky enough to traipse around backstage pre-show which was another bonus round of WTF for me that weekend. The shows on the 28th and 29th, while maybe not legendary, per se, are quintessential Panic circa 1997 and well known due to their widespread availability as SBD's. The 29th in particular was nothing short of the perfect Panic show and stands up today as exemplar as it was to witness it in person. Several tracks from this show appear on the band's first live release, Light Fuse Get Away for good reason: maybe not the best versions of Diner et al, but quintessential ass-kicking WSP. For me, though, I will never forget the Pigeons. Even more than that, I remember not being able to shake it from my mind for days after the show, it wormed its way into my musical inner-self and sort of reset my balance. That's where Panic has always gotten me, when those songs you thought you knew, practically members of your own family surprise you, just turn around and smack you in the nose and before you can think "what the fuck!" you've got blood streaming down your face. Oh yeah, and the Porch Song and the jam coming out of it were pretty otherworldly. It goes without saying that it was totally expected but an absolutely perfect way to end the weekend with Cream Puff War -- a version that might have scared Jerry's ghost back into the rafters. To cap off the entire weekend, I snagged a super-snazzy poster on the way out into the seedy SF night... was pretty nifty because it listed all 4 shows I had seen, wouldn't have been as cool if I had skipped Reno. It still hangs proudly on my wall.

The next afternoon we got our lazy waltz around town and all we could talk about was how this band -- these 6 mortals -- had pistol-whipped our existence. It was almost painful, those moments trying to rearrange bearings, preparing for a hopefully soft landing back into reality. From note 1 I was a Panic fan, and there were moments along the way where this fan became a fanatic, where admiration became puppy love became deep adoration. But it was probably that weekend out west, those 4 days, that didn't cost me a penny where it became an obsession that I still can't shake, 10 years later.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

LOVE IT!!!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't come at a better time for me...fresh into the workforce I was able to watch the Texas Two-Step this past weekend

adamB said...

wish i could have been there, but with your insightful commentary i feel like i was. god i love widespread panic as well as the others who share my affection..

what a solid rock in this ball of confusion...

Anonymous said...

Old days come and go too soon
Old friends, heroes, lifetimes
Don't let a single memory fade away