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.”
Imitation Leather Shoes, B of D -> Tortured Artist, Papa Johnny Road, Send Your Mind, And It Stoned Me, Happy -> Sell Sell, Postcard, Conrad
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
Karson Brown is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.