Morrison, CO. (June 28, 2013) I could write an entire review about how Red Rocks Amphitheater is the coolest venue in the world (backed up by a recent article in Rolling Stone) or another on how great the Widespread Panic community is. Bring Spreadheads to Red Rocks and the energy is even more condensed as people want to throw the Red Rocks shows into their run of shows to follow.
Widespread Panic played a simmering set Thursday night. The band was hot but definitely wasn’t their most explosive show. Altogether it was a great show, but one couldn’t help but feel they were holding back for the rest of the four day run. There was room to groove, but with no opener, the first set started with some regular jams that got us warmed up in the midst of the triple digit degree weather. The weather is going to cool down the next couple days but I expect Panic to get hotter.
John Bell is becoming one of my favorite slide players. Damn he grabs your attention when he puts that pressure against the strings. He used his slide a lot Thursday, with a light touch, smooth, and creating a groove around Dave Schools’ bouncing bottom line. One obvious example was when he played “Party at Your Momma’s House.” But the highlight of the entire show for me was “Bears Gone Fishin” in the first set. I got to do the reel in, cast out dance I learned from my first Panic show in 2002.
It just got dark for the second set, and there was a long break. You could feel the anticipation and energy in the air before they took stage again. They started out heavy for the first two songs and then with “Blue Indian” settled everyone down again. It felt like the first set, but was needed, and we were only two songs in singing “Til the medicine takes.” The conga solo was condensed and sweet -not watered down or stretched out too long. Going into a tight duo solo and leading into “Papa Legba” segued into “Papa’s Home.” Jimmy Herring played his heavy jazz style and solos but there were a couple nods to Mikey Houser, the original guitar player, with his amazing volume pedal work. I’m the kind of guy who admits when he doesn’t know something, and I’m not afraid to ask questions . . . So I will admit I had to ask when I at first didn’t recognize their cover of the late Vic Chestnut’s “Sewing Machine”. Some of the songs were like art metal and this was a good example their heavy blues.
The encore was two songs ending with “Hope in a Hopeless World.” The first song was Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” which brought a tear to my eye when it speaks of meeting a kid who played guitar and “we used to sit on the steps at school and dream of being stars.” It reminded me of my now brother-in-law, Danny Viall, and my other best friend, Wes Beck, and the multiple bands we were in, including some in high school/junior high and even in kindergarten with Danny! I remembered being in second grade and my mom drove past our recess. We were at the top of the stairs at the playground listening to Danny’s Walkman together. She barked questions at me when I got home, “That’s not what you do every recess is it? Why don’t you play?” I answered, “It’s not what we do every day, but damn it, I don’t have that AC/DC cassette at home to press play!”
Red Rocks is beautiful visually, and I was told the sound is the best about 30-40 rows back where you can also take in the red, natural amphitheater. Was it loud upfront? Yes. But it was amazing to look behind you and see the famous note eater man lit up and spinning on the side of a giant red rock wall and see a sold out show behind you going nuts! Tomorrow I will sit where they claim it.