Seeing a band like Widespread Panic for multiple nights, a band that doesn’t repeat set lists and likes to stretch things out, you never know which show will be THE show that every fan will wish they had been at. Saturday night, their second of a three-night run at Red Rocks, Widespread Panic hit higher heights than they did Friday night, but also had a few more low moments.
It had been a hot day Saturday, and many fans had arrived in the lots early to hang out and party. By the time the band took the stage at 7:50 p.m., the energy among the fans was electric. Panic wasted no time delivering the goods, opening with a one-two punch of “Sometimes” and “North.” Dave Schools stepped up with a bass break during the former, and lead guitarist Jimmy Herring and keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann traded singing solos and rolling fills on the latter.
Even during the first set, you could tell the band was on, as they rocked several between-song jams to make the set flow. The jam out of “Rock” into “Hatfield” gradually slowed tempo, as percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz played around with the familiar intro riff on his set while Herring and rhythm guitarist John Bell spun dreamy riffs on the main melody. During the song, Herring built a guitar solo with a perfect sense of push and pull, finally reaching a glorious crescendo. Bell played around with the summer theme on his vocal improv at the end of song, talking about it being “hot in summer.”
After sustaining such brilliance, the band may have needed a little breather, and the first downer moment came on “True To My Nature,” which never really took off. “Rebirtha” also started slowly, and it wasn’t until Herring took an extended mid-song solo that the band locked in again, weaving in and around the main melody line. They finished the first set with “Porch Song,” with its line “Havin’ a good time, here today, watching the sun shine,” which seemed a perfect description of the vibe.
The band returned from the setbreak with seemingly no break in momentum, as Schools shook the amphitheater with bass bombs on the intro to “Henry Parsons Died.” The jamming was kept to a minimum during the first half of the second set, as they went for straight-up rock on “All Time Low” and a relaxed, feel-good lazy groove on “Down.”
It almost felt like the band had been marshalling energy to that point of the set. If so, it certainly paid off, as the band raged through the last half of the second set and encore. A long jam out of a fiery “Chilly Water” had Hermann playing with funk sounds on his keyboard while Herring alternated choppy rhythms and smooth sustained solos.
Drummer Todd Nance and Ortiz got a long drum solo on the jam out of “Arleen,” with Nance’s playing taking on a snappy, driving edge around Ortiz’s softer rhythms on the congas. Panic reached its blazing best on “Impossible” and “Action Man” to close the second set. Herring’s frenetic solo on the latter built off the energy of Schools’ pulsing bass line while Hermann’s piano fills wove in and out of the spaces the two left.
Once again, the band, celebrating its 25th anniversary, returned for a three-song encore, closing with a heavy take on Neil Young’s classic “Mr. Soul.” There was no acknowledgement from Bell as they finished; the band left the stage, leaving the crowd still wanting more.
Set 1: Sometimes, North > Rock > Hatfield, True To My Nature, Time Zones, The Take Out > Rebirtha > Blue Indian, Porch Song
Set 2: Henry Parsons Died, All Time Low, Down, Jaded Tourist, Tortured Artist > Chilly Water > Jam > Arleen > Drums > Vacation > Impossible > Action Man
Encore: Up All Night, Bust It Big > Mr Soul