Widespread Panic has released the epic Delaware show from summer 2001 and it got me thinking about that great night. Thanks to the "wayback machine" I was able to go get my old review written immediately after the face. Hard to believe I wrote this much and this hyperbolically about one Panic show, but that's the way I used to roll, baby! Enjoy this look back at Neddy 2001 style:
The evening could be summed up by the Thought Sausage - a great song, one of my favorites of the new crop. The song was played adequately and then was drawn out at the end in what you might call a "jam." This conglomeration of noise went no where for several minutes in a painful excursion of improvisation. It was amazing that it was the same band as Wednesday night as each member seemed to be in different universes. When they tried to tidy it up by bringing back the Thoussage themes, it was even more evident that they had no clue where they were going.
Drums was, dare I say, a highlight of the show - the guest percussionist taught a few lessons to Sunny on how to play the congas. I think Sunny is great, but his drums routine is so tired it's being compressed into pill form and being sold in the lots as valium. Post drums was a bit of a relief if only because there was a change of pace. Rodriguez from Groove Collective came out during the jam with Schools giving it a decided jazzy edge. I wouldn't say that he was a monster on the saxophone, but he held his own and at least gave the mirage of good music to the audience that was floating in the wreckage of Thursday's show. Maggot Brain is probably the lone true highlight for me - one of the best I've heard. Mikey was scorching through his solo and the saxophonist dialed in his own blaring solo to put this one over the top. Low Rider was fun, but like the rest show just flat out sounded "off" to me. The encore was a nice validation for the still-hepped crowd and assured me that the band had as much fun as I did, despite the mediocrity of the run. Give Thursday night's capper a 3.5 on the Ned-O-Matic, saved by the post drums change of pace.
Floating in the ocean, dangling on the appreciable pieces of Thursday's carcass, I could only hope that land would be found fast. Who knew that such a tropical isle would be found in the middle of Wilmington, Delaware? If ever there was a Panic show to get "stranded" at, this would be the one. For all I know, it may be my last Widespread show for a long, long while and with all the big talk of "sleeper" of the summer, I just prayed that new life would be found in the island paradise of Kahunaville.
Kahunaville Summer Stage, Wilmington, DE 22 July 2001
Set I: Glory > C. Brown, Give, Diner > Rebirtha, Blackout Blues, E on a G > Dirty Business > All Time Low
Set II: Swamp > 1 x 1, Sleepy Monkey > War > Kinky Reggae > Sleepy Monkey > Stop Breaking Down, Party At Your Mama's House > Red Hot Mama > Drums > Last Straw > All Along The Watchtower > Traveling Light
E: Old Joe, North
[First 'All Along the Watchtower' (full - sung by Dave); 'War' and 'Kinky Reggae' (both Bob Marley) were at least one full verse and the full chorus of each song sung by JB]
WOW! I didn't want to fall victim to the bold predictions made right up until the lights went down, but this show lived up to all expectations and more.
The show started sort of innocently with a nice Glory > C. Brown, Give. Each song was short and sweet, but the energy was there from the get go and the band seemed to be in really high spirits. Dave seemed especially lively fielding extended bass fills at every chance he could get. It was nice to move to a nice outdoor venue, especially one that is general admission, after being "cooped up" on that luxury liner of the Beacon Theater. The sound was impeccably good - I don't recall hearing each band member so cleanly since Atlantic City last summer. The comparisons between those two shows would not end with the crystalline sound.
This show was really about JB from the beginning. His guitar playing matched the treatment it was getting from the PA - phenomenal. His voice was just as clear and just as sweet. By the end of Give it was clear that the audience was tuned and the band was rearing to go. With pirate ships floating by on the water beside the venue and a man-made volcano poised in the front, the scene was set for our deserted island Panic show.
Luckily, we were stranded in a jungle dense with exotic species like a first set Diner that brought the energy up a notch. Sucking out the juices from the lush fruit of Diner, the band was dripping with fortified licks. Perhaps not as tight as they had been on Wednesday night, the band more than made up for it with rising intensity and spiralling freefalls through Diner. JB sang with voice and guitar - the requisite rapping at the end may have been similar to all those before it in wording, but it was his conviction and melodic tinging to the ad hoc vocals that made the fruit that much sweeter.
The band cascaded like a hidden waterfall into a rocky transition into Rebirtha. One thing that I have missed over this summer and even further back is the true segue. Lately it seems the band has forgotten this "lost art" of a graceful sashay from one song into the next - too often they either move too abruptly, causing a collective whiplash in the audience, or they peter out altogether, needing a moment of pause before hitting the next song. Sunday night, for better and worse, the band rediscovered the segue like hidden relics in an ancient temple. The paradise of Kahunaville was full of surprises.
The segue into Rebirtha was rough and tumble through the rapids, but was a precursor for things to come. As a result, though, Rebirtha left a bit to be desired. The band seemed rattled for the entirety and the song never hit that blow-to-the-gut oomph of Tuesday night's in New York. It was still a building step in the set and neither the band nor the crowd seemed too deterred - even when the band hit Blackout out of the ensuing silence. I was in high spirits and was sure the show's arc would lead to more rare vegetation, so I did my best to appreciate the finer points of the Blackout Blues. JB's slide work is what kept me smiling - it seemed that the band was aware of their strengths that night: JB's vocals and guitar, fun-loving audience ready to party with boat drinks and leis, sloppy summer Sunday jams that made up for a lack in the ultimate in high energy with subtle twists and whispered genius.
As my brother commented, Blackout was almost like a first set "Drums," and I tend to agree with him. The set was neatly segmented by this song with the post-"Drums" section being a triumverate of goodies. The band had lead the willing audience to a hidden treasure of succulent rarities. The jungle was ripe with the rarely tasted treats of E on a G > Dirty Business.
E on a G was a perfect choice for the mood of the show. A mellow, brilliant composition played for the first time on the tour. Despite its lack of playing time, the song was played to near-perfection with all 6 band members contributing a little bit to the product. Perhaps the band's most esoteric of vehicles, the song meandered wonderfully through its overlapping themes until slinking down into one of the band's most straightforward rock and roll covers. The move from E on a G into Dirty Business was nothing short of gorgeous, as the band not only moved from one song into another without effort, but from one end of their vast musical spectrum to another. Linking together two super-rare songs, each of which hadn't been played all summer, was the band's gift to us. Dirty Business was a perfect choice as the band got the audience swaying back and forth with JB's continued vocal/guitar prowess. Finally the song shifted and picked up steam into perhaps the best transition of the night into All Time Low. The final three songs of the set were a masterpiece of Widespread Panic setlist construction and execution. The audience fell for the bait and lost their "cool" during ATL. Arms waving in the summer air, sweat flinging to and fro, the shipwreck was behind us. Land ho!
Matching the somewhat excruciating wait for the show to wait, the band indulged in a long set break. Jimi Hendrix's "Blues" played almost in its entirety during the pause in the action and only kept my wheels greased in preparation for the exploration the second set would lead to.
We had arrived safely at our island paradise. We had left our sanity for a three hour tour and were ready to explore our new habitat. What surprises would await?
The first set was nice, but it was nothing compared to the utter mindfuck of the second set. Opened with Swamp! The band was our guide through the muck of this Talking Heads cover. Another rarity to throw in our packs along our journey, JB was on fire leading the crowd in his "HI HI HI!" chanting. I knew we were safe as the band belted the "I've come to take you home!" lines to the delight of the audience. A fun romping tune that perfectly set the stage for another smart segue into 1 x 1. The band ripped through this one with Mikey spiralling his notes around and around. I can't reiterate enough how good everything sounded and Houser's licks seemed to welcome the clarity with ringing intensity. It makes such a difference to hear each note begin and end so cleanly.
Once again, the audience was primed and on the hunt for some native wildlife... would a monkey do? An extended break between songs was the last rest we'd have until leaving our tropical paradise. Sunny bonked his blocks and before you knew it we were "swinging on back to the jungle" with Sleepy Monkey. One of my favorite tunes and another perfect choice for the Sunday show. Overall the show really reminded me of the Sunday night Phil and Friends show from Asbury Park. That night there was this understated brilliance that replaced all-out rock and roll bombshells with a more mellow intensity. Although there were moments in Delaware that had me dancing my ass off as the jams reached full tilt, the overall mood was more graceful and somber. Sometimes more impressive than the edgy, dark ear blisterings we usually get from Panic, the highlights of this show were E on a G > Dirty Business, Sleepy Monkey, the yet-to-come Party At Your Mama's House, etc.
Sleepy Monkey bumped the island music into Kahunaville with the band bopping over thematic riffs wonderfully. JB made it through each verse and the band lobbed reggae-ish funk into the crowd. As the band worked an instrumental section out, JB dropped straight into some extended Bob Marley passages. It was brilliant the way he just hit the ground running with lyrics from Marley's "War." Working his way through the first few verses of the song, the band only slightly diverged from the choppy backup from Monkey. Having been introduced to the natives of our surroundings, JB continued, hitting the "I went downtown..." portion of "Kinky Reggae." The crowd went nuts with jungle boogie as JB lead the band through his extended Bob Marley tribute. Finally pausing his vocals, the band took off and braided themselves around reggae themes before deftly returning to Sleepy Monkey. JB was as good as I've seen him as he wrapped up the tune, wishing farewell to the Monkey as he swung on his way.
The band was in the groove - a 6 man machine that plowed over the uncertain terrain of the show. Beyond JB, each man was channeled into each other with the beautiful precision indigenous to Widespread Panic. Like a choir their voices were strengthened by each other; each member sang his part and in the combined harmony, the music was made.
Hitting their stride, Schools plopped down the driving bass line to Stop Breaking Down. Again, a perfect choice - JB was on FIRE! Like a poor man's Luther Dickinson, Bell was massaging his guitar with fingers and slide evoking images of early Delta bluesman. His vocals matched his licks and the band followed eagerly. Organ, bass, guitar and drums - the band was a giddy mess of notes paying perfect tribute to the blues in classic Widespread Panic style. Reggae > Blues with thundering accuracy - there was nothing abrupt about these dizzying transitions. The band was all over the place, yet right on target every step of the way.
In my eyes, the first "climax" of the show was Party At Your Mama's House. Sure, the song contains some of the more slowly forming sections played the entire night - it was not a climax of energy, but one of setlist and performance. The quality of the playing was at its peak during this thang. It was at the point in the set where probably anything they played would have benefitted from the utter ecstasy shared between band and audience. The song was a raft trip through the rapids. The band rose and fell with the whitewaters, navigating the composition with great agility. With moaning slides and deliberate rhythm, the speed and intensity grew with each paddle stroke until the audience was drenched in the splashing waters of Widespread Panic.
Unfazed by the instrumental's dizzying path, the band showed complete mastery of each twist and turn. Finally the end of the river was reached, but they were determined to extend the moment. In near-epic fashion, the band unfolded the composition one piece at a time. Each member seemed to jump out of the raft, one after another, and plunged themselves deep into the warm waters of the jam. The result was a wet, graceful piece that slowly shed the themes of PAYMH. It was one of those "you've got to hear it" moments that you run into every so often. One of the highlights of the show for me.
The open-endedness of the jam that resulted had me thinking that Drums was afoot, but instead JB would get one more chance to go at it and party at Red Hot Mama's house. This Red Hot Mama was an Amazon woman who would eat you for breakfast. I don't always think this song hits all the cylinders, but Sunday night, the band was on fire and just steamrolled through yet another cover song. The bonfires were lit, the drinks were chilled and the party was ready to erupt. The band had been that volcano that graced the entrance to Kahunaville all night, rumbling with potential until finally spewing their molten rock and roll from the stage. It was red hot and just what the witch doctor ordered.
JB had the band in full gear and then left them early - sitting side stage to revel in his concoction. The band continued to peel off until it was just Houser and Schools. Their interplay was something to marvel at. Only the keenest of ears can hear the back and forth during the heavy mess of a Panic jam, but during this stripped down version, it was a treat to watch. Bare essentials Widespread, as Mikey and Dave went back and forth and inside out. Houser finally faded and Schools stroked one riff over and over via live playing and sampled playback. It sounded so much like a song of some sort - if it was, I need to know what it was, and if it wasn't, they should take that riff and make a song out of it. I was thinking then what would later come true post-Drums... that we were well on our way to the ruins of Bustout City - the Lost City.
Drums made way for bass-lead weirdness where once again I was sure they were playing a song. This time I was right as they dropped another sampling of the exotic flora and fauna they had gifted us Sunday night - Last Straw. I was really glad to see this one, but I must admit that this was about as off as the band had been all night. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, but it also makes you forget how to play things. It doesn't help that Mikey's amp wasn't working properly for the first steps of his solo. The band was a bit thrown and couldn't buckle down. Too bad.
But as the fog lifted, the band sunk into a new groove. The transition was a bit awkward as the band gave each other a "are we ready to do this" kind of look and then launched into All Along the Watchtower. I swear to you now that I was thinking we were going to get this before drums but I was still surprised that they broke this out. Schools on lead vocals and Nance, Hermann and Houser ripping rock and roll at its finest. The band was tight around this Dylan via Hendrix classic which became the true energy climax of the night. Each verse was outdone by ripping organ and guitar solos. There was no timidity with this one - the Lost City was found and the gates were open. The audience was going bonkers singing along at the top of their lungs and shaking their bodies in joyful boogie. As he had been all night on his backup vocals, Dave was a rock star - screaming and elaborating the lyrics as only he could: vocal chords straining, hair flipping in the wind and bass lines thumping wildly. Needless to say - the NAILED it!
Traveling Light has never sounded so good and so fresh to me. The rocking just didn't stop and it was "Old Faithful" to the rescue swooping through the air to scoop up us wayward travelers. Our adventure through the uncharted oasis of Delaware had come to an end - the discoveries would last only as happy memories. The encore was more standard fare - JB got his moment in the spotlight with Old Joe and then the band got one more chance to explode and send us on our way back north with North. Coming after a meaty, Grade A set like that the encore was sweet dessert. This wasn't a show that needed to be put over the top, we just needed one last dollop of whipped Panic on top of the mixed fruit salad we had just devoured.
The journey gets a 7.5 on the Ned-O-Matic scale, but I don't think I could have much more fun than that on a Sunday night. My advice to you is if Widespread Panic is due to play in the tri-state Philadelphia-extended area (Philly, Delaware, Southern Jersey) - don't miss it! It's the Bermuda Triangle of sleeper Panic shows and believe me, it's just the place you want to get lost in. Come back soon, boys, I'll miss ya! F