7/8/06 Greek Theatre - Berkeley, CA


Widespread Panic Kicks Out the Jams at Greek Theatre
By Evan Winchester
Thursday, July 13, 2006

I used to wonder why people would radically change their lives to follow Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. This is music we're talking about, not a religion-right? And what is it about them and other "jam bands," like Phish, that warrant their own ice cream flavors at Ben & Jerry's, and have their fans packing up and traveling to see their shows night after night? Well, Saturday at the Greek Theatre, Widespread Panic put those questions to rest.

The devoted showed up in force, wearing shirts that read "Screw for the fun of it" and "Curious George smokes a joint." Or no shirt at all. One woman wore a dress emblazoned top to bottom with a slash of lightning separating Deadhead red and blue, while a dude drank what might have been beer from a CamelBak. They were here for a party.

They got that and more. Widespread Panic kicked off with "Driving Song," from their debut album Space Wrangler, and-all in the first set-dipped into new material like the jazzy, gently building "Crazy" from the new album Earth to America, as well as Southern-rock classics like "Ain't Life Grand."

With the crowd singing along and band members unable to stop smiling-guitarist George McConnell especially, as well as Domingo Ortiz finding bliss with the bongos-you've got the makings of a great live show.

And that's what Widespread Panic is all about. They started jamming in 1985, and ever since then, they've been recording albums that are solid, but don't nearly do them justice. What they're best at is playing with the energy of the crowd. Their songs are long, too, so there's plenty of time to rev up, cool off, solo, play part of another track, and then finish with a reprise of the first one.

"Chilly Water," played at the beginning of the second set, was a smash example of their masterful control. When the song peaked and guitarist/singer John Bell sang, "As long as there's water, chilly white water," the audience consummated their love by waving plastic water bottles overhead, as though Widespread Panic had activated some kind of hidden, deranged, Greek Theatre sprinkler system. And here's the best part: When the chorus repeated, the fans had saved enough bottles to put an exclamation mark on that second ecstatic moment, as well.

The crowd had so much energy, it just didn't seem fair-if only we could set up a relief fund for other bands, maybe they'd give us shows like Widespread Panic.

During the first set, people blew bubbles and socked beach balls at dusk, and when night fell the sky became a riot of glow sticks and flashing lights, with people dancing all the way to the back of the Greek Theatre. We're talking ridiculous, unpretentious, never-had-one-lesson dancing. We're talking air guitar.

When the first set ended, some bras were thrown onstage ("That was a really big bra," remarked one stunned concertgoer), followed by a year-long thirty minute break. But the second set was worth the wait, with Ortiz and drummer Todd Nance giving an incredible thirteen minute percussion performance.

For an encore, the band covered Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." As it ended and they picked out the last notes on guitar-notes that would normally be whistled-someone remarked, "This is the perfect song." And it was: the perfect nightcap for an incredible, nearly four-hour long show.

A note to Ben and Jerry's: If there is no Widespread Panic ice cream flavor, there should be.
Petition Ben and Jerry’s with Evan at arts@dailycal.org.

SETLIST - 07/07/06 Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA

SET 1.) Little Kin* > This Part Of Town*, One Arm Steve*, Can't Get High* > Papa Johnny Road* > Party At Your Mama's House* > C. Brown*, Song For Sitara*, Old Neighborhood, Makes Sense To Me

SET 2.) Diner* > Heroes* > Second Skin* > Tie Your Shoes > Ride Me High* > Tie Your Shoes > Drums** > Rebirtha > Nobody's Loss* > No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature* > Barstools and Dreamers*

ENCORE) When The Clowns Come Home* > Junior*, Dream Song*

* with John Keane on guitar/pedal steel
** with David Schools on percussion
['Satisfied' rap during 'Barstools and Dreamers';
Soundcheck: 'Dear Mr. Fantasy', 'Second Skin', 'Heroes' (x2);
Last 'Heroes' - 11/04/01, 289 shows]

SETLIST - 07/08/06 Greek Theatre, Berkeley, CA

SET 1.) Driving Song* > Rock* > Driving Song* > Blackout Blues*, Ain't Life Grand*, Time Waits*, Crazy* > Time Zones* > Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi)*, Henry Parsons Died*

SET 2.) Machine** > Chilly Water** > Visiting Day** > Chilly Water**, Hatfield > Drums > Love Tractor, Surprise Valley* > Pilgrims*, Give*

ENCORE - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay*, Climb To Safety*

* with John Keane on guitar/pedal steel
** with Sam Holt on guitar

Setlist by EverydayCompanion