8/13/06 Widespread Panic kick out the jams (Show Review)


Widespread Panic kick out the jams

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Concert review

By Derek Serafin

Saying that Widespread Panic are attentive musicians is a bit of an understatement. Judging by their first of three sold out shows at the historic Chicago Theater on Friday, the band displayed their talent in a set mixed with frantic highs and dull lows.

As is considered typical of artists who fall into the "jam band" category, Widespread Panic managed to flesh out a number of their songs from relatively short in length to opuses that would span upwards of 15-minutes. Friday's show was full of songs not only being extended in length, but also it saw songs meshing and flowing almost flawlessly into one another.

Early in the bands' set, Widespread Panic took three separate, unrelated songs and combined them into one sinuous and fluid number. Beginning with 1994's "Junior," Panic then went into a slowdown before launching into "Down" and finishing off the nearly 20-minute jam session with a cover of Billy-Joe Shaver's "Chunk of Coal." The bands' ability to combine songs in such a way that they are almost one continuous track is truly a testament to their abilities as musicians.

Also, as is traditional with jam bands, band members took turns exchanging in lengthy, occasionally arduous solos. Fortunately, though, Widespread Panic managed to keep their solos not only on the short side, but also did not allow them to take over their entire set. "Tall Boy" saw the bands three guitarists, John Keane, Sam Holt, and lead singer John Bell all exchange solos one after another. While sonically, the solos were all very well executed, the three guitarists appeared to be almost bored while playing them. When Bell went into his solos during the evening, he would almost always be seen with his back to the crowd as he performed. While it is understandable that this is done as a way to not only keep time with the drummer but also to keep the attention of the audience on the music rather than the musician, a little bit of visible enthusiasm would not have hurt Bell.

The main problem that arose during the three-hour evening was the way the show was divided up. Rather than playing one continuous set, Widespread Panic broke their show up into two halves and a two-song encore to conclude the evening. Closing out the bands' first set, they ended on an extremely high, energetic note with their cover of the Grateful Dead's "Cream Puff War." Once the song ended, the band headed off stage as the houselights came back on to begin what should have been a brief intermission. The main problem was that this "brief intermission" wound up spanning 45-minutes. Seeing as how the band had just finished their first set on such a high note, this untimely and drawn out intermission really ruined the flow of the nights' set. While the crowds' energy remained high for the rest of the show, with fans dancing in the aisle of the Chicago Theater, they never quite reached that same peak again.