7/29/03 Las Vegas show review


Widespread Panic
July 29, The Joint (4 stars)
By Maria Phelan • Photo by Uriah Gibson

After seeing Widespread Panic live at the Joint, a few things are instantly clear. First, this is a band that no longer needs to play shows as anyone else's opening act. And second, founding guitarist Michael Houser (who died of cancer last fall) will always be missed, by both the band and fans, but his replacement, George McConnell, is a badass.

The last time I saw WP, they were performing at the Silver Bowl as the opening act for the Dave Matthews Band. Unfortunately, the sound was terrible, since as the opening act, WP wasn't the crew's priority, and they had to take the stage way too early in the day. Despite some sound problem early in the Tuesday night performance at the Joint, WP put on the kind of live show most current rock acts can probably only dream about.

Through the first two songs, "Surprise Valley" and "Ride Me High," George McConnell's guitar solos were smokin'. It almost seemed like he was trying to prove himself to the audience as Houser's replacement, and the energy behind his guitar playing gave the band the push it needed to go from laid-back jams to dirty Southern rock.

Percussionist Domingo Ortiz and drummer Todd Nance also had a chance to prove their skills during a drawn-out jam that started with "Driving Song," then developed into an extended jam for the whole band, then hit its highlight as a jam between the two percussionists. After Ortiz and Nance did their thing, the jam became a great version of "Daddy's Drinkin' Again" before looping back to "Driving Song." WP played for more than three hours, making its way through nearly 20 songs in that time�something a lesser band might have a hard time doing without losing half of its audience by the end. The way WP paced the Tuesday concert was reminiscent of good Phish shows, with the band getting into long jams that lulled the crowd, then pulling the energy level up just before the audience might start to lose interest.

Other than the great performance by WP, something else caught my attention last night. A girl who had lost her wallet was walking through the crowd near me looking for it, when another girl, who had found the wallet, stopped the owner to return it, with everything, including the girl's money, still inside. Try that at a Metallica concert.