10/12/06 Well-orchestrated chaos: Cincinnati Concert Review

Photo by Wes Rucks
Widespread Panic’s lead guitarist and vocalist, John Bell, enjoys the music during the concert at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati.

Evansville Courier Press
Well-orchestrated chaos


CINCINNATI - When a band names itself Widespread Panic, all kinds of images come to mind: rampant fear, unchecked anxiety, aggression, chaos and lots of, well, widespread panic.

But that's just not the case with this six-man jam band from Atlanta that will play in Evansville on Tuesday.

This Panic will have concertgoers feeling right at home, whether they're from the Tri-State or have traveled some distance to follow their favorite band.

The historic Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati played host to Widespread Panic last week. A friend, Jason Bailey, and I hit the road to experience the band live. We wanted to see what it is about this band that attracts so many. We came away more enthusiastic fans than ever before.

We arrived early, as is customary for a show of this genre. The crowd was diverse; every age group, race and any other census-survey category were represented in some way. These "spreadheads" were comparing notes on the last show, anticipating another great performance and trying to predict which of the band's 300 songs would be played on this night. Part of the excitement is the unpredictability of the event.

Ready to see the band for ourselves, we could hardly wait for the show to start. The house lights dimmed and the crowd erupted. Widespread Panic had stepped onstage.

My normal heartbeat was quickly replaced by the thumping of Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools. He popped and plucked at the strings, causing the floor to tremble with heavy booms. Domingo S. Ortiz smacked away at his congos, his head bouncing from one side

to the other in syncopation with the beat.

JoJo Hermann's keyboard lobbed heavy tones into the rafters as Jimmy Herring ripped at his guitar.

Fans we talked to agreed Herring has been a valuable addition to the band, having recently replaced guitarist George McConnell, who played on Widespread Panic's latest album, "Earth to America."

Todd Nance drummed like mad and set the tempo for the passionate fans to hop, bop and flail about.

John Bell drove the rhythm of the show. Bell's onstage presence was that of a sauntering Southern gentleman. His voice was raspy, almost quiet at times yet full of emotion; we could feel his need to connect with the audience. From the opening song, "Surprise Valley," in which Bell's lyrics proclaim, "The spirit, it moves through all things," to the encore "Hope in a Hopeless World," Widespread Panic and its eclectic mix of Southern rock, heavy, mind-bending jam and dexterity allowed the spirit to move through all in attendance. What a rush it was.

Song after song built to crescendo after increasingly intense crescendo. It was a wild ride of musical bliss.

At times the sound was so loud, and the crowd was in such a state of frenzied jubilation, that to the outside observer it would appear the band is quite aptly named. It was no state of panic that had taken hold. Rather, it was a bit of magic.

We felt it. It was pure rock 'n' roll - a band and its audience fused in a shared experience.