Photos and review: Widespread Panic at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver - Reverb

Live review: Widespread Panic @ the Fillmore Auditorium, Day 1

In 1996, Georgia-based rockers Widespread Panic spent the month of February hitting ski towns in the Rocky Mountain region on its famed “Sit & Ski Tour.” The band played sitting down while hitting ski towns in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, giving both the band and fans a chance to ski during the day and party to great music at night. While that tour is usually thought of as all-acoustic, the band actually mixed in electric and acoustic sets.

Since that tour, Panic has occasionally done an acoustic set, as at the Pepsi Center in 2010, but has never done entire shows acoustic. At the Fillmore this past weekend, Panic, which is going to go on hiatus after this tour, revisited its “Sit & Ski” roots on the “Wood Tour,” which is the first tour the band is playing all-acoustic.

When a band transfers its electric songs to acoustic, it can go two ways. They either rework the songs to be different, or play them straight up, with the acoustic tones changing the sound. Panic embraced both methods.

At times during the first set Friday, it appeared the band had trouble adjusting to the acoustic sound, rushing songs that they lay back on more with electric instruments, as the acoustic guitars don’t allow for the same singing sustain that electric ones do.

After a solid “From the Cradle” to start, the first set meandered for a bit. “Can’t Get High” didn’t work as well acoustic, and “Clinic Cynic” fell flat. The pace picked up on “Wondering,” with the Fillmore audience singing along on the chorus, and Jimmy Herring’s flat-picked guitar solo on “This Part of Town” held nuances that the electric version doesn’t.

Panic’s Southern boogie rang clear when it changed the set-closing “Imitation Leather Shoes” to a country shuffle with overtones of the Grateful Dead’s “Cumberland Blues,” basking the Fillmore in a joyous groove.

If the first set was restrained, the band brought the goods in the second, jamming with abandon and finding new inspiration in well-traveled material. A silky smooth “Holden Oversoul” kicked off the second set, while “Who Do You Belong To?” had almost the same country-shuffle beat as “Imitation.”

Lead singer John Bell switched to a silver Dobro guitar and used a glass slide to great effect on a long “Party At Your Mama’s House,” which jammed into the classic “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues.”

Bluegrass pickers often use capos so that they can play the same solos at different positions on the fretboard, maintaining speed and fluidity. The limitations of playing electric guitar solos on acoustic instruments were evident on “Christmas Katie.” While the first part of song pulsed with tightly-restrained energy, Herring’s solo seemed to stutter as he reached the higher parts of the fretboard.

The long jam that followed however, more than made up for it, and was one of the high points of the show. Dave Schools pushed the jam with his lead bass playing while Herring and keyboard player John “JoJo” Hermann spiraled riffs around it. Toward the end of the jam, Herring and Bell picked up a classic blues riff that was part “Spoonful,” part “Smokestack Lightning,” but instead resolved into “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” Bell’s growly vocal fit the song perfectly.

Even 10 years after his death, founding guitarist Michael Houser still looms over the band. Houser used to play sitting down, something he found he preferred when Panic did the “Sit & Ski” tour. When Panic launched into “Don’t Be Denied,” with its line “Pretty soon I met a friend, who played guitar,” the fans roared in approval, and it seemed to bring everything full circle.

Set 1
From the Cradle, Can’t Get High, Worry, Clinic Cynic, St. Louis -> Wondering, Gradle, This Part of Town, Don’t Wanna Lose You, Imitation Leather Shoes

Set 2
Holden Oversoul, Who Do You Belong To, Travelin’ Man, Party at Your Mama’s House ->Stop Breakin’ Down Blues, Christmas Katie -> Jam -> Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Pickin’ up the Pieces, Nobody’s Loss, Space Wrangler, Climb to Safety E: Don’t Be Denied, Up All Night, Chunk of Coal

Click here for coverage of Day 2 and Day 3.

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.

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