Albany: Widespread Panic Kicks Out The Jams

Widespread Panic Kicks Out The Jams
Special to the Times Union

ALBANY … The Palace Theatre’s still disheveled and patched-up lobby (from a car crash) was of little concern to the hordes of hippies and jam band fans that poured into the historic venue Sunday night to see longtime favorite Widespread Panic.

Hailing from Athens, Ga., stalwarts Widespread Panic have been at it since 1983, and have even survived the passing of founding member Mike Houser in 2002, its longevity due in large part to relentless touring. It recently raised the bar by adding guitarist Jimmy Herring, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band, the Dead and Aquarium Rescue Unit.

At the Palace, hardly anyone seemed to like the early start time (even on Sunday). At the scheduled showtime at 7 p.m. there were scant few folks ready to roll, but no worries, it didn’t kick off till 7:45 anyway, and by then, the theater was nearly full.

You could feel a sense of community as the band took the stage; a funkified jam kicked things off as the current lineup of guitarist/singer John Bell, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz, and keyboardist John Hermann got their footing. Herring wasted no time wailing on fast, fluid yet meaty solos. The rhythm section ruled as well, as Nance and Ortiz played inventively with each other, and Schools meandered from melodic lines to giant, low-tones bass bombs that filled the room. Herring sure-footedly climbed the stairs they built with stinging, well-constructed leads culled from a seemingly bottomless well of licks.

The band looked casual and comfortable and never moved from their assigned spots on the stage. Singer Bell never addressed the audience until midway into the second set, but the uncanny interplay of the musicians and the give and take from the crowd spoke volumes.

From the wah-wah driven “Junior,” powerful “You Should Be Glad,” propulsive “Stop-Go” to “Christmas Katie,” “Blue Indian ” and “It Ain’t No Use’,’ Bell sang in a dusty, gruff voice. The secret weapon here was surely Herring. His expressive, technique-laden solos raised the intensity and forced the rest to keep up. Herring could possibly be the best player in the genre at the moment.

In fact, Widespread have never sounded better, and judging by this show … with its power and sheer musicality … could eat some of the younger bands on their jam band circuit for breakfast.