Widespread Panic at Red Rocks Amphitheatre day one (photos, review) - Reverb

Widespread Panic at Red Rocks Amphitheatre day one (photos, review)

Widespread Panic kicked off the first of three sold-out shows at Red Rocks — an ongoing streak that shows no signs of slowing — with two sets of dirty, bluesy rock on Friday night.

For Panic fans, you could tell it would be a good night when the band opened with a blast of the gritty “Imitation Leather Shoes,” on which David Schools pounded out the dark bass line to shake the amphitheater. Guitarist Jimmy Herring threw in a dizzying solo on the break, while singer John Bell’s vocals alternated between low and gritty on the verse and a cleaner and soaring style on the chorus.

During the instrumental “B of D,” a light rain started. It never got heavy enough to soak the audience, and most in the crowd didn’t even pull out their rain jackets. However, as the tune wound down, people went searching for their cell phones to capture photos of the full arc rainbow that was touching down perfectly behind the stage. It was another beautiful memory in a place where Widespread has created so many of its best.

The first set’s sing-along highlight was a joyous cover of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me,” fitting with the lyrics “And the rain let up, and the sun came up, we were getting dry,” as by that point the clouds had receded and the sun was back out for its final rays of the day.

During “Sell Sell,” percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz got things going with an upbeat percussion beat, while Jimmy Herring later took over with a fierce, million-notes-a-minute solo.

The set-closing “Conrad” proved a highlight, with John “JoJo” Hermann firing up rolling piano fills and an extended solo that balanced perfectly over Herring’s playing.

The break after the 56-minute first set was nearly as long as the set itself, but when the band returned to the stage, it started with one of its few free-form jams of the night, with Herring and Schools dancing around the beat with spiraling, cascading fills before Schools started the opening bass riff of the moody “Second Skin.”

Herring’s playing still borders on being too intense for some Panic songs, as was evident on “Rebirtha,” where his version of the bouncy opening riff lacks’ the silkiness of the late Michael Houser’s, although Herring’s solo flowed beautifully from soulful string bends to rapid-picked fills. However, on “Sleeping Man,” Herring’s solo at the end lifted the song from a standard rock number into a memorable jam.

Though the band has been on tour since the beginning of June and played Wednesday in Kansas City, the first night in a different city always seems to present some rust. Herring and Bell seemed to have difficulty synching up their guitar riffs on the opening to “Driving Song,” but found the groove on the second go-round. The light show, which to that point had been understated, suddenly expanded, encompassing not just the stage, but the pillars on either side of the stage and the rock formation behind it.

After a drum solo between Ortiz and drummer Todd Nance and the “Driving Song” reprise, the band offered up the rarely played “Bayou Lena,” which they hadn’t played since November 2008, and closed the 87-minute second set with a fiery “Love Tractor.”

The encore picked up a Talking Heads theme, first on “Papa Legba,” then a brilliant “Life During Wartime” that had fans dancing deliriously. They weren’t done however, as Bell played a few watery chords that sounded like “Heaven” before leading the band into “City of Dreams.”


Set 1
Imitation Leather Shoes, B of D -> Tortured Artist, Papa Johnny Road, Send Your Mind, And It Stoned Me, Happy -> Sell Sell, Postcard, Conrad

Set 2
Second Skin -> Rebirtha -> Sleeping Man, Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi), Driving Song -> Ribs and Whisky -> Drums -> St. Louis -> Driving Song, Bayou Lena, Love Tractor E: Papa Legba, Life During Wartime, City of Dreams

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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.

Karson Brown is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.

  • JD

    We get it–Jimmy Herring’s playing bothers you.

    I’m sure all the haters on the Panic message boards love you for carrying their water, since not a year goes by without a dig on Herring in your reviews (see below for many examples culled from your past writing)…message received, Jimmy Herring–one of the greatest guitarists in the world–is not good enough for you. Maybe give it a rest next year?

    “Herring’s playing still borders on being too intense for some Panic songs, as was evident on “Rebirtha,” where his version of the bouncy opening riff lacks’ the silkiness of the late Michael Houser’s”

    “There’s also something about lead guitarist Jimmy Herring’s playing that clashes with the mellow vibe the band projected. Herring’s guitar tones are piercing, bordering on shrill at times. During the quieter, slower parts of the jam on “Party at Your Mama’s House,” Herring’s playing overwhelmed the mood of the song. When Herring lays back in the pocket, as on “Walkin’” during the first set, he meshes much better than when he goes on screaming, metal-esque solos, as he
    did on “Papa’s Home”

    “In my review of the Thursday show, I noted that Herring’s playing sometimes seems to clash with the overall sound of the band. One song that has always been evident on is “Rebirtha.” When the band played that song with founding guitarist
    Michael Houser, the song, and especially the opening guitar lick, seemed to
    flow like water, whereas with Herring, who seemed to play the lick an octave or
    two down from where Houser did on Sunday.”

    “On “Ribs and Whiskey,” lead guitarist Jimmy Herring picked piercing trills over lead vocalist John Bell’s sultry, lazy slide playing…”

    “During “Space Wrangler,” Herring’s enthusiastic guitar fills at times overwhelmed both keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann and even Bell’s voice…”

    “Speaking of Houser, his playing is so unique that it sometimes feels there are certain songs the band just shouldn’t play anymore. “This Part of Town,” the first of a three-song encore, is one, as Houser’s signature lingering lead is what gave the song a palpable presence, and without it, the song falls flat. While it’s understandable that Herring wants to make songs more his own, on some, he should probably just play them as they were written.”

    “While Herring was pushed front and center for much of the show in the mix with his blistering, piercing guitar wail,…”

    “Bassist Dave Schools dropped plenty of bass bombs of doom during
    “Henry Parsons Died,” filling the arena with thunderous lows while Herring veered into screaming, heavy metal-esque guitar solos on a long jam.”

    Herring is a technically brilliant guitarist, and his playing for the most part compliments Panic’s sound. However, at times his heavy riffing could almost take away from the song, as on “Genesis,” played early in the second set, where Herring’s crunchy leads seemed a poor fit, especially after the second verse. “Christmas Katie,” a slower, funk-tinged song, certainly doesn’t need a Metallica-like solo at the end, although, as one fan commented, Herring only seems to know two speeds: fast and faster.”

    “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.”

    “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.”

    “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”

    “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.”