Widespread Panic has turned their annual Austin stop at ACL Live into something of a tradition, managing to make a stop on an almost yearly basis for the last handful of years. This time around they chose to kick off their spring tour with a three-night run in the heart of downtown Austin. Panic fans traveled from far and wide to catch this three-night run and the shows quickly sold out as this theater with a capacity of less than 3,000 is one of the smaller venues on the spring tour.
The first set of the night felt like the engine was just getting revved up as the band got reacquainted with one another. There was a feeling of going through the motions as they cruised through a ten-song setlist, but they also seemed to be getting warmed up. That being said, the set was not without highlights; JoJo Hermann’s funky organ jam in the middle of “Goodpeople”; an electrifiying guitar solo from Jimmy Herring on “Radio Child”; a version of “Bear’s Gone Fishing” that was grandiose enough to feel like a psychedelic theme to a James Bond film which drifted into the ambient space jazz and fuzzy tripped out lights of “Shut Up And Drive”. After the slow burning country of “Visiting Day” and “Steven’s Cat”, the massive, Pink Floyd-esque prog rock sound of “B of D” was a welcome presence, especially when it segued into the rowdy, barroom shredding of “Who Do You Belong To?”
Set two found the band and their audience loosened up and ready to have a little more fun. There were longtime favorites like the one-two punch of “Barstools and Dreamers” and “Machine”, which found Jimmy Herring channeling Jimmy Page with a mountainous bluesy guitar jam, and the organ-heavy JJ Cale cover “Travelin’ Light”. By the time the band got to “Bust It Big” JoJo Hermann had solidified his place as MVP of the night with a glorious, slinky organ groove that laid a funky foundation for everything else. Talking to fans in between sets, it was clear that there is a lot of pressure on young Duane Trucks, who is now Panic’s fulltime drummer after the departure of Todd Nance. Trucks played it cool throughout the night, preferring to stay in the pocket over doing anything flashy. Even the drum solo with Sunny Ortiz felt more about teamwork in the way the two locked into a thick, rhythmic tribal groove. By the time the band made it to the triple attack of “You Got Yours”, “Sell Sell”, and “Chilly Water”, the crowd was driven to hysteria as they jumped about and begged for more.
The main highlight of the night came during the encore with Panic’s testosterone-charged Southern rock take on Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots” that was prefaced with a the gritty blues of “Honky Red”. It was at this point that it became clear that these guys still love what they do after so many years, and Friday night was only the beginning of what promises to be one hell of a spring tour for Widespread Panic.
All photos by Arthur VanRooy.