Review: Panic In Our Nation’s Capital

The bootlegs suggest that the previous night, which saw a sit-in from ubiquitous saxman Ron Holloway, was a little greasier and a little groovier. But for those who like their Panic dark, dirty and Cajun-spicy, 4/21 was the goods, with the band teeing up a few of their regular touchpoints in set one – a Heroes opener, a middle-of-the-road Space Wrangler, the always-welcome Papa Johnny Road – before really settling in. That Machine > Barstools combination always finds away to veer psychedelic before returning to earth; credit Schools, Nance and Sunny for keeping a gnarly jam from devolving too far. And a killer one-two to seal off the set: a tight, well-rounded Airplane that landed, from a fierce, frothy jam, in a misty space and grew into Can’t Find My Way Home, by that point JB’s strongest vocals of the evening.

It’s hard to overstate just how Jimmy Herring phases himself into a jam and opens it up from the inside; a lot of his soloing isn’t so much “look at me” theatrics meant to divert attention from the rhythm section as it is something that rides atop what the rest of the band is doing, especially when they launch into one of those runaway-train style Panic rockers. Granted, he’ll turn it on as needed (his Airplane roller coaster was one of many), but with every tour he’s grown more comfortable – more simpatico — with the ways in which Panic likes to flavor a jam, without losing his identity. Jimmy’s solos are both warm and clinically dazzling; he’s fit himself into the Panic thing organically, not modally, which for his situation – even considering his prowess and how long he knew Panic before 2006 – is remarkable.

Forty-four minute set breaks are no one’s idea of fun, but Panic itself brought as strong a single set as I’ve heard yet this tour for the night’s second half. Proving Ground felt tentative compared to its usual versions, save for some rippling JoJo keys, and Walk On the Flood a bit garden variety Panic. But as soon as Trouble arrived, the pilot light was lit, and the following Pickin’ Up the Pieces brought some of the greasy, hot-skillet flavor from the first night back to the fore. Then came the big yield; that Little Lilly > Guilded Splinters > You Got Yours > Guilded Splinters > drums > Hatfield > Climb to Safety was as filthy as it looks on paper, with even Lilly getting a rougher edge than most versions are used to. Hatfield spewed fire, and even if you’re not a fan – for its ubiquity or just because – of Climb to Safety, it kept the momentum heavy straight til the end, setting the table for a meaty, three-song encore.

An aside: nitrous balloon sellers were out in full force across a three-block radius outside the Warner, hawking their wares with little regard to any type of law enforcement. Business was brisk from what I could tell, and going back to the Metro Center subway following the show meant walking through rainbow of discarded balloons up and down 13th Street. The nitrous issues plaguing jamband events are of course nothing new, but there’s still something ominous about that kind of buzz-killing view coming out of a great show. The definitive investigative piece on how nitrous infiltrated, then proliferated at, these shows we love, has yet to be written.

Widespread Panic, 4/21/10, Warner Theater, Washington, DC

1: Heroes, Space Wrangler > Rock, Time Zones, Papa Johnny Road, Machine > Barstools and Dreamers, Up All Night, Airplane, Can’t Find My Way Home

2: Proving Ground, Walk On the Flood, Trouble, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, Little Lilly > I Walk On Guilded Splinters > You Got Yours > I Walk On Guilded Splinters > drums > Hatfield > Climb to Safety

E: Expiration Day, Postcard, Blackout Blues

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