10/18/06 Evansville Courier: Show Review

Widespread Panic perform at The Centre in Evansville

Widespread Panic delivers monster show at Centre
The Evansville Courier

The thing you should know about Widespread Panic is that nobody I talked to Tuesday night knew what songs they were listening to.

They'd heard some of them before, liked them all, but they had no idea what the names were, or what the words were, for that matter.

That didn't stop a crowd of about 1,200 at The Centre from having a good time.

Words weren't the point, anyway. When you play in a band with three guitarists, a synthesizer player and two drummers, your songs need plenty of room to breathe. It's more about fine musicianship, and maybe about where the music moves your body and spirit.

I'm sure beer helps.

The bargain seems to be this: You come and support us, and we'll do our best to play some good, all-American music.

Really, the success of bands such as Widespread Panic is a testament to the fans as much to the musicians, who, by the way, were all experts, if not especially groundbreaking. To pull off a show like that, where lyrics take a back seat to marathon jams, you need listeners who don't get impatient, who'll let you explore and play different set lists every night.

A lot of bands get stuck playing the same stuff every night and don't ever get to go anywhere from there. The fans at The Centre didn't mind the band taking a peek down every corner and alley it came across. There were some songs that, honest to goodness, I didn't think were ever going to end. At one point, drummer Todd Nance and percusionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz played for more than five minutes by themselves, not counting several smaller solos.

But that was to be expected, and there were lots of folks jumping up and down and waving their hands, not to mention glow sticks flying through the darkness.

I'm sure the Internet has been a big boon to Widespread Panic - the way word of mouth used to be - since it has been together since 1984 (and recording nationally since 1991), and I've never heard one of its songs on the radio. But none of that would mean much if it didn't deliver.

The show kicked off with "Ribs & Whiskey," not that it mattered - see the band on three different nights and you might get three different openers - and the crowd ate it up as if it were, well, ribs and whiskey (For the record, it's a song about seeing your sister naked.)

The 45-minute first set meandered through "Counting Train Cars," "Rock" and "Love Tractor," a bunch of good, clean-sounding songs. The second set, which lasted more than an hour, rode higher and lower musical tides, with "Coconut," "Big Woolly Mammoth" and a shiny cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing." It opened its encore with the Neil Young song, "Don't Be Denied."

Most of the music was uptempo and loud, but it had kind of a middle-class polish to it. Just about everybody onstage got to sing at least part of a verse, but singer/guitarist John Bell's melodies weren't all that challenging and were turned down pretty far in the mix. There were a lot of blistering solos and some white-boy approximations of funk grooves.

Maybe the set highlight was "Mercy," with it's high-pitched blues solos and breathy vocals, as close to emotional depths as the band hit: "I'm not begging for mercy, I'm just waiting for the morning birds."

Most of the rest of it didn't hit you at the bottom of your soul the way some of its influences do, but at its worst it was an easy-to-digest homage. And it gets your hips moving.