Live review: Widespread Panic @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre (June 27, 2008) - Reverb - Reverb

Live review: Widespread Panic @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre (June 27, 2008)

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There’s a reason Widespread Panic has played Red Rocks 32 times. Can you guess what it is? Photos by Mark T. Osler.

Friday, June 27, was “Widespread Panic Day” in the City and County of Denver. So what did the Athens, Ga.-based band jam band do to get such an honor? After three sold-out shows this weekend at Red Rocks, the band will have played 32 sold-out concerts at Red Rocks, more than any other in the venue’s history.

The six-piece group has achieved this while largely remaining under the radar. Even in the jam-band community, their concerts are a little more laidback. Phish and the Grateful Dead both reached a point where either’s audiences overwhelmed Red Rocks and the bands couldn’t play there anymore. Panic keeps coming back year after year, playing to a devoted fanbase that nevertheless keeps it a little mellower. And it could be said that you either get Panic or you don’t.

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Walking into the venue on Friday night, the crowd seemed to remember that. There were many new faces, but the vibe was the same, and the stage itself was sparse as ever. Panic is more than capable of filling the venue without resorting to a stack of Marshall amplifiers. The light show is good but never over the top; there is no pyro, no lasers or smoke machines or so much of the accoutrement of a modern rock show. Panic has always been a band that prefers to let its music do the talking.

What was unusual on this run was the punctuality, the band taking the stage promptly at 7 p.m. In years past, it might be 7:30 or 7:45 before the members wandered into view. After a quick hello from vocalist/guitarist John Bell, they launched into “Heroes,” and the groove was there right from the start. Lead guitarist Jimmy Herring, the band’s second since the untimely demise of founding member Michael Houser, clearly meshed well with the group.

Herring joined the group in August 2006, after honing his chops in jam bands like Aquarium Rescue Unit and former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s band Phil & Friends. In the context of Panic, Herring has changed his playing from when he was in those other outfits. It’s a faster, somewhat more complex style and it definitely drives Panic into a harder-edged sound. During “Holden Oversoul,” Herring soloed dexterously, pushing the song into a rousing crescendo before dropping off into a long jam, during which bassist Dave Schools added his dark bass.

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A Widespread Panic show is almost refreshing in light of the pretension of so many rock bands, who seem to feel the need to play to the crowd. Panic presents its music almost as the perfect accompaniment to its fans’ joy. In fact, it could be argued the band goes too far in that direction. During the first set, the band would step up, play a song, step back and tune up, then launch into another. There is almost no between-song banter, no “You guys are the best”-type pandering that so many rock bands engage in constantly, often making you wonder why they even bother.

Musically, there is a tightness that seems to reflect a lack of ego, although I’m sure all six members have one to some degree. Except for the guitar solos by Herring, no one instrument dominates a song.

Schools added some great funk-laced bass on “Old Neighborhood,” while keyboardist John “Jojo” Hermann started “Help Me Somebody” with great boogie piano. On rare occasions, Herring did nearly overwhelm a song with his solos, as on “North,” when he seemed to play a little too loudly and drown out Hermann and drummer Todd Nance.

Toward the end of the first set, former Black Crowes’ guitarist Marc Ford joined the band for a couple songs. On “Vampire,” both Herring and Bell stepped down a bit to allow Ford room to play and solo, and after the first chorus, both Herring and Ford stepped up with swift solos. The band ended the first set with “Makes Sense to Me,” which started with some pleasant bass from Schools and ended with crazed solos from Herring and Ford.

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After a 45-minute long break, the band took the stage again with Houser’s classic “Porch Song.” With Herring on guitar, the song doesn’t quite flow the same way it used to. Herring’s tone is crunchier and, at times, the transitions between verses seemed off-tempo.

During the first set, as a lead in to “Angel’s on High,” Herring had teased the guitar line from War’s classic “Slippin’ into Darkness.” After introducing another guest, Ivan Neville on keyboards, Panic launched into the tune with an extended intro, harmonizing well. Hermann and Neville also meshed nicely on keyboards, and Herring ended the song with an extended solo. In fact, the end of “Slippin’ into Darkness” was the last time before the encore that the band didn’t jam straight into another song. Starting up with “Surprise Valley,” the rest of the evening was a varied array of songs, jams and spacey exploration.

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Herring’s solos increasingly blurred during this section, often sounding overly-similar. Herring is, in some ways, too fast. His solos propel the songs in new directions, but there are times when he plays so quickly that it borders on metal, as during “Bust It Big” — a jarring sound in the context of Panic’s songs.

Another thing Panic seemed to scale back on was its usual drum solos. Percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz took a short one after “Bust it Big,” but by keeping it short kept it interesting. That led back into the end of “Surprise Valley.” Tempo problems plagued Panic’s version of Traffic’s classic “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” At times, it seemed they were rushing a little too much, and Ortiz’s percussion was chaotic. They jammed into “Pigeons,” with Schools playing some excellent bass leads to start the song, and Hermann took an extended organ solo after one chorus. After this strong point, they followed with another chaotic transition into “Low Spark,” which never really seemed to gel properly.

After closing the set with searing version of “Give,” which provided an excellent platform for another speedy Herring solo, the band came back for a two-song encore, ending the night with “Ain’t Life Grand.” Bell played mandolin, though you could barely hear it, but Herring was more restrained during the song and consequently it sounded stronger.

Judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic roar to almost all the nuances of the set, Panic’s sold-out string at Red Rocks will probably continue for years to come. You either get Panic or you don’t, and in Colorado at least, it seems many people do.

Reverb contributor Candace Horgan is a Denver-based writer.

Mark T. Osler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and regular contributor.

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Categories: REVERB
  • anon

    that’s got to be one of the most poorly written reviews i’ve ever read

  • anon

    great pictures, tho!

  • threepin

    The only good thing about this article, are the pictures! Panic was “ON” Friday!!!

  • CCP

    Doesn’t look like I missed much

  • YoungBuck

    this band looks really cool! i should check them out sometime

  • dave

    first half of article is exactly why panic rules. however the reviewer was incorrect, all three nites were blisteringly good. check out panicstream.com for links to streams of all three nites and judge 4 yourself

  • Dad’s Aborted Fetus

    i just wish they would encore chunk of coal>doreatha

    dad, pls kys and you’re other one in the oven

  • Bush Leaguer

    It was great. I was able to smuggle in needles and be obnoxius and yell at anyone who i didnt think deserved to be there.

  • Right On The Money

    I guess if you people would take your finger out of your dipping bag, you’d see this was RIGHT ON THE MONEY! Panic fans cry bloody murder the second someone potentially says their band is not the greatest thing in the world. There were plenty of positive comments in this article, and plenty of accurate ones.

  • Al

    You write an interesting review. It would be nice to see some credit given to one of the greatest guitarists on earth, but it just seems as if you can’t handle it.

  • Billy T.

    The review was intelligent and even-keeled. It brought praise, it pointed out deficiencies. Jimmy’s heavy metal machine gun style can become overbearing at times. They really should stop playing Low Spark. It just wastes 20 minutes. Still, the band sounds good these days and is a pleasure to see 3-5 times a year. Good review and ignore the idiots who have little to no musical taste and are happiest when the emperor is wearing no clothes.

  • T

    I have to agree with the review too. Jimmy is truly a gifted guitarist but he seriously needs to ease up on the shredding. Just because you can play 50 notes per second doesn’t mean you should. I remember people complaining about George’s lack of range when soloing, but at least he had some soul and a style that complimented the other musicians on stage, even if he couldn’t imitate Mikey’s riffs perfectly. So yeah, very good shows this weekend but next time I hope it sounds a little less like a heavy metal guitar clinic.

  • goinoutwest

    Great band! Great shows! Great review! And you’re right about Jimmy’s speed solos. Knowing this band, he’ll hear that feedback from the fans, band and crew. Hopefully he listens to them. I bet he does.

  • longtimefriend

    When I was growing up WSP was playing in local bars, starting out like any band. I have been fortunate to have enjoyed WSP since the days when they couldn’t fill up a bar and I still enjoy their shows today. I started playing the guitar in ’82 and mikey’s unique style of playing, coupled with jb’s sincere voice and style, got me hooked. Mikey’s death was an end of an era for widespread panic. They will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean they arent’ still a great band. I’ve heard so many people analyze George, and now Jimmy. And that’s o.k., we all take from a show what we want. I’ve known these guys for a long time and in my personal opinion, replacing mikey could have gone two ways. Either get a guitarist and tell him to emulate mikey, or find someone who fits without taking away their personal style, simply allowing them to be/play who they are, and the latter is what they have tried to do. They have always been, in my opinion, an unselfish band and have always promoted individuality as a part of the whole. Again, in my opinion, that is why they have lasted as long as they have and why they are so successful. No one can replace mikey, so be thankful we had to opportunity to know him and his style of playing. As to WSP, no matter who is playing guitar, they put in a place where I’m warm and comfortable inside. My first “show” was when I was 15, now I’m 34. I miss mikey terribly, the same way I miss my father and other friends/family that are now gone. It’s like a person loosing a limb or two, yes they are different, but still quite the same. By allowing George/Jimmy to be themselves on the instrument they love, the band is the same….it is also what has made them different since mikey died. They do what they do because they enjoy it. They have handled the loss of mikey like anyone of us would a loved one, the best they know how. I’m happy I’ve enjoyed Panic for over 19 years. Yes, they are not quite the same and they never will be, but they still do it for me like no one else can. I’m happy for the past memories and look forward to the future ones.

  • ralph dog

    I love what herring has brought to the table!And if you watchted the rest of the bands faces so do they. thanks so much jimmy!!!!! vail loves you !!

  • td

    ghost of the dead-creepy-but oh so familiar-just heard wsp for the first time today-and i got a smile on my face and goosebumps and almost tears-i will check them out and fall in love-scared that they will die and go away-cannot take again when jerry passed and a era was gone for so many-happened when kurt passed away too-those losses hurt me-scared to fall in love again-WSP please stick around long enough for me to introduce you to my children :)

  • Readytoride

    JIMMY IS AWESOME! HOWEVER HE DOES DEEDLE FROM TIME TO TIME. I AM VERY GRATEFUL FOR JIMMY, BUT I MISS MIKEY

  • Mike

    I have been into the band for some time now. Everyone agrees that the leads will never be the same as Mikey’s. But if you were at these shows you would have heard why I think Panics best days are ahead of them and are not in the past. Mikey was always into heavy dark leads, and I am so happy that Herring is exploring all those tones that the fans have been missing since his passing. It’s the give and take from the audience to the band and vise versa that makes an ordinary show an extraordinary experience. And no one does it better than Panic! Peace.

  • colorado panic

    great article although i think you give jimmy alittle too hard of a time … yes he plays too many notes many times, but the man is a genius he picks every single note …. he is not perfect for panic thats for sure but i thin k he deserves more credit then what is shown…… other then that there are way too many haters…. that low spark was awsome…. yes sunny was a little off but too many people are complaining about that song…. 1) jb loves singing steve windwood tunes and 2) jojo rocks low spark… people need to stop being critics and start being FANS because they bairley play low spark and it is a real treat…….. first people were getting sick of songs like oas and tall boy which the boys do play alot but come on people low spark is amazing…. if people keep bringing the band down by bashing on songs then hearing something ass sick ass fairies or one of the more rare songs will become less enjoyable ….. the fact is is that the band chooses what to play either enjoy the music or dont!!!!!!

  • Gus

    All I know is the crew sporting those red and white “Rock” hats were shredding harder than anyone there!

  • guywearsgenius

    the low spark was done perfectly. it takes a seasoned pair of ears to know this. good luck on future columns. please don’t start listening to this band.

  • huntinpanic

    If you want songs to be perfect listen to a CD if you want to hear a different unbelieveable set go to the show. Thats the beauty of live music sometimes they nail it sometimes they dont! LONG LIVE PANIC!!!

  • mmorse0626

    if you don’t like your rock n roll dirty, go check out a jack johnson show. enough said

  • Funklestein

    I am not sure how anyone there could have had less than a stellar weekend. The weather was perfect, Red Rocks is gorgeous, and WSP is playing for us. The article is a good one, some of the following comments are not that positive but to each his own. My thing is hearing people at the show commenting on a weak set or, or a song they may not get or whatever negativity they grabbed a hold of. Some people see too many shows and lose perspective on what the show, scene and community are all about. WSP full steam ahead! Anytime I get to see the boys, I will have an excellent time!

  • Coconut Phil

    WP is the greatest band in the world, bar none. They have it all, they deliver it night after night. Keep jamming. I’m looking forward to receiving all three shows on CD next week.
    Living Free.

  • discopanic1

    Yeah man, never been to Red Rock’s but would like to go. I dig them guys w/ or w/out whatever. I still will travel all from Mississippi to see them, maybe they won’t stop. Mikey was very close to the one, now we’ve got another one, different but pretty good on the guitar.

  • Kudzuking

    Just to let you know. Jimmy is just not another one he is one of the greatest guitarist of our time. He has played with some of the biggest acts ever. Grateful Dead or The Others, Aquarium Rescue Unit and now Widespread Panic. Mikey was great and we all miss him but Jimmy was the right thing at the right time. Jam On!

  • Phreakin’ Canuck

    I too have not been to Red Rocks and I just missed WSP in the capital city of Canada, Ottawa. Now I feel I must try to make the pilgrimage to Red Rocks if I can. There are Panic fans in Canada, folks!!! And those who dig them, dig them a whole lot!!!

  • larry

    There WERE tempo problems during Low Spark. Go back and listen to it. Anyone who claims it was “done perfectly” either was not listening or doesn’t know much about music.

    I love Panic as much as anyone, but I don’t have any problem with honest and accurate criticism. As far as this writer’s critique of Low Spark goes, it was dead on.

    I’ve been mostly impressed with Jimmy, but this is one of the songs the band has yet to nail with regularity with him in the lineup.

    Sorry, but it’s just the truth.

  • Panicrealist

    I’ve seen Panic almost 100 times and was at all three of these shows, and everyone commenting on here that says this was a bad review, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. The guy that wrote this doesn’t know the band and that provides for a great objective opinion. I think he is absolutely right about Jimmy, and my friend and I had the same discussion before this run. No doubt the guy is an incredible guitar player, but it is too much at times for this band. He never ever plays on a clean channel, he is always fully overdriven and always plays these superfast in your face solos. Technically amazing, yes, but it takes away from the groove of the band. Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to see panic till there is no more panic to see, and I do think jimmy will learn to fit in better, but this review was right on . And the guy who commented that all three shows were “blisteringly good”, I have to respectfully disagree. They all three had moments, Saturday was the best in my opion, but definitly not even in the top 10 best panic I’ve seen in the past year, and not as good as last year’s red rocks run. Still, the most fun you can have with your pants on and one hell of a party. See you in Aspen

  • Brett Lewis

    Jimmy–Screw the critics, the silent majority loves what happened for those three nights. Best Red Rocks show in a long time!

  • BONERJAMS2003

    the guy with wearing the sunglasses in the pic in the middle of the article is a loser i sat by him on sat and he kept trying to call songs and only got like one right. peolpe come to the shows to listen to the band not hear some jerk from houston try to guess what the band is going to do.

  • Henahan

    The fact that many of you think Jimmy’s playing doesn’t mesh well doesn’t make that a fact. It is simply your opinion. You don’t really KNOW anything. Many think he meshes just fine. Many appreciate the dynamic he brings to the table. I personally can agree with the fact that, yes, he does play fast and I might want him to slow down at times, but that is just my opinion. The funny thing is that sometimes I like it fast and sometimes I don’t – even the same song can come across different to me at different times. That’s the beauty of the live experience. You take the good and the bad, but it is always worth it. Again, I thought this Red Rocks run blew away last years run. But, that doesn’t make it true – just my opinion today. Jimmy, just keep doing what you do.

  • larry

    I think Panicrealist hit the nail on the head.

    It’s definitely a matter of opinion whether Jimmy’s style is appealing, and whether it fits in with Panic’s sound. So Henahan is right on the point that a lot of this is subjective.

    Personally, I share Panicrealist’s opinion that Jimmy’s “superfast” solos are often too much and detract from Panic’s traditional sound. But I can understand how some people might like that departure from the norm.

    But insofar as the tightness of this band musically, it is a fact that their shows are kinda ragged. Now, it’s certainly no great travesty that a new guy (Jimmy) still hasn’t mastered every nuance in his limited time with the band. And like other folks have said, Panic shows are still awesome experiences regardless.

    But it’s undeniable that some songs — Low Spark being one of them — have some deficiencies they didn’t previously have.

    It’s ridiculous for someone to say the Low Spark at RR was a flawlessly executed masterpiece. Because anyone who really listens to it can easily detect some serious flaws in the song’s tempo and direction.

    Go back and listen to a Low Spark from 97, 98 or 99 and you’ll hear a huge difference.

    Look, I’m not one of those folks who are incessantly saying how much better things used to be with Mikey. Jimmy is a fabulous guitarist who seems genuinely stoked about being in the band, and the rest of the boys seem stoked as well.

    But it’s undeniable that these guys are nowhere near as tight as they used to be. Anyone who says otherwise is in fantasyland.

  • Mike

    To a couple of comments above. Jimmy’s leads are a HUGE part of the bands groove. People who think that Herrings’s over driven tones do not mesh well in the mix are dead wrong. One of the things that originally turned me on about the boys was their ability to play extremely fast and aggressive. Flex their muscles if you will. For example; listen to a recording of Impossible with Mikey and with Jimmy. Both extremely over driven leads, and dead on. Every one has their own opinion of course. The reviewer got one thing right and that is you either get it or you don’t! Jimmy Herring is a perfect fit! He is one of the greatest guitarist of all time. And I look forward to many more years of face melters! And cheers to the folks that were lucky enough to witness this run. I felt the vibe at Red Rocks that originally pulled me in. And of course that vibe is attributed to the family. But most of all to the happiness of the band. I am always blown away at how in tune the band is to the audience. I definitely get it!!!

  • Jason

    This article is bull. Panic was bringing the heat all 3 nights. What NORMAL fan is looking out for chaotic transitions and drowning sounds. The fact that this guy is saying that Panic has “a tightness that seems to reflect a lack of ego” is absurd. The fact is that everyone is there to have a great time in a great atmosphere, listening to great music with all of their great friends. If your that concentrated on the “sounds that reflect the band’s ego” then why not just stay home and “reflect on life” all night. Granola eater.

  • Icediggity Dank

    Yo! All of you folks need to get a grip. Who the hell cares what the other guy thinks? Everybody(well almost everybody) paid the price of admission to rock it out with the greatest band on tour today. You know what they say about opinions, and i sure as heck ain’t losing any sleep over a “sloppy” Low Spark. There’s a reason for 32 Red Rocks sell outs, and that’s because all of your sorry asses will be there next year for the greatest show on Earth. I’ve been at it since ’93, but I’m not ignorant enough to question someone’s opinion about whether this was that or that was this. While all of you girlies are whining, you can find me down in front, BOUNCING FROM START TO FINISH. Where else have you ever been to a party like this?
    N-O-W-H-E-R-E. See you next year beeeeeeatches.

  • Gabe

    I thought the article was right on. Panic got the crowd going with Heroes. Low Spark was probably off. And Herring shreds to much. If I wanted a perfect show I would follow U2. I have seen U2 at the Pepse Center 3 times since 2001 and there show has been exactly the same with the exception of them taking out and adding a few songs. Unfortunatley I had to pay twice as much as a panic show. That’s what makes panic great. It is alway different. I have seen a number of shows and not one has been bad. I have taken a number of friends to there first show and they said it was the best show they have been to. Mikey is my favorite guitarist and unfortunately he is gone. Thanks Jimmy for taking on the burden of trying to replace him. It can’t be easy.