By Jessica Youssefi • Photos by Mountain Trout Photography
Widespread Panic graced the stage of Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theatre Saturday for part deux of their three show run at the venue. Fresh off the heels of their 30th anniversary, Widespread Panic still knows how to bring the excitement and execute a one-of-a-kind concert that arguably rivals some of the best live performances in music today.
The band kicked off the spring portion of their 2016 tour on Friday in Austin, offering goodies such as “Fairies Wear Boots,” a Black Sabbath cover. As expected, there was extreme anticipation as to what songs would be provided on Saturday. Social media has been flooded for weeks with posts regarding the excitement and eagerness about the band’s run at The Moody. Saturday night it seemed the audience and the band were ready to follow up Friday’s opening show by playing older songs, as well as new material that comes from the band’s latest record, Street Dogs.
On Saturday night, Panic opened the show with “Tallboy” followed by an interchangeable jam from “Surprise Valley” into “Little Lilly,” which is a killer song (and no, I am not just saying that because I do love The Beatles.) Fan favorites were also gifted during the show in the form of “Dying Man,” “Hatfield,” and “Second skin.”
Jimmy Herring was phenomenal on the guitar during the whole show (per usual). The seasoned vet enthralls you with his guitar playing, and at times I found myself just staring at the way he seamlessly fingered the guitar while emitting some of the most professional sounds I have ever heard come from that instrument. Jimmy Herring is a wild man as far as guitar playing goes. So confident and sure of himself, and it shows in his playing.
John “JB” Bell provided much of the heart and soul of the band singing out his heart during the performance. Songs like “North” really showcased the singer’s incredible ability to sing, tell a story, and really catch the audience somewhere down in the deepest parts of their music-loving souls. The singer/guitarist sported a flannel shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots presenting a very laid-back, nonchalant stage presence while pretty much saying the whole time through his presence that he was a complete badass. This is really true especially when you think about how many times a year this man gets up on a stage. That deserves respect all in its own.
Widespread Panic is one of those bands that relies on talent and precision as opposed to crazy theatrics on stage. They do not need to be jumping up and down, or have physical distractions to wow an audience. Their voices, musicianship, songs, and talent speak all for itself.
Percussionist “Sunny” Ortiz had the most genuine smile of happiness on his face throughout the entire set. I noticed that smile many times, and of course it made me smile right back at him. Bassist Dave Schools held the funk while letting the wind of excitement in the air blow through his flowing long hair. Keyboardist John “JoJo” Herman lent his voice to tunes during the set while seamlessly jamming out the whole time.
With the recent, indefinite departure of founding drummer, Todd Nance, the groove is clearly still held down as Duane Trucks (son-in-law of Jimmy Herring) has stepped in. And boy did he rock out! You have to tip your hat off to Trucks. The drummer held his own on stage last night and had many moments where all eyes were on him, and considering the musical influences that uphold the young drummer’s background, it was no surprise that there was constant praise going around the crowd Saturday night. This guy possesses an incredible gift of artistry. Herring and Trucks would have moments during the set where they would almost be having a loud conversation on stage needing no words, just their instruments.
The venue provided a perfect platform for Widespread Panic to execute an atmosphere that not only stayed closely tied to the band’s well-known and insanely popular live shows, but also delivered an ambiance of intimacy. Attendees were able to feel as though they were partaking in something majestic and special….a live show of biblical proportions if you will.
It is not merely a concert, rather an experience, and an opening weekend of a tour at the Moody Theatre set the stage for that to happen. All around people were dancing, had massive smiles on their faces, and were singing along to the songs that they have loved for so many years, as well as newer ones such as Jamais Vu (The World Has Changed), and the popular “Street Dogs For Breakfast,” which has become one of my personal favorites. That tune had me moving my feet, and was incredibly telling of the New Orleans style influences that hold true on many of the latest albums songs. Not once was I able to look up to the mezzanine or the balcony and find anyone sitting in their chairs. There was a lively vibe happening; the light show was in full effect, and it was impossible to not feel the excitement and adoration for this band.
The encore of Saturday night’s show brought the crowd in close with the music. Playing songs like “Expiration Day,” “Up All Night,” and “Ain’t Life Grand.” A telling and appropriate group of songs to close out an amazing set. Let’s just be honest: everyone in that theatre was experiencing happiness, content, and feels of appreciation. Saturday night love was in the atmosphere; the smells were in the air, and the affections between musician and fan were most definitely held accountable.
Saturday’s show only confirmed that during their tenure, these geniuses of improvised-jamming have perfected the art of experimenting with sounds and genres to create their specific style.
Widespread Panic have remained true to the sound that emerged from the depths of their souls 30 years ago, all while integrating that sound into something new with every album and every live performance. Their longevity proves there is no slowing down this band, and that their music is long-lasting. The affection fans hold for them is strong, and after witnessing Saturday’s show I think I understand why. You have to give respect to this band who has proven themselves, time and time again that they are one of the hardest-working acts in music.
There was definite panic going down on Saturday night. A panic that comes from love and respect for Widespread Panic, and if the Sunday’s show is anything like Saturday’s, then attendees are in for a real treat.