Georgia-formed jam rockers Widespread Panic brought their brand of bluesy, interpretive Southern rock to the North Carolina mountains of Asheville last weekend. The band treated fans to special guests, choice covers, and tight lengthy jams because that’s just what they do. Here’s a recap of Saturday night’s show at the U.S. Cellular Center (formerly known as Asheville Civic Center).
They kicked things off with Panic original “Glory,” a song that finds its way into the opening slot very rarely, but usually speaks of good things to come. Rippin’ rocker “Give” busted out next, giving way to a cover of “Sell Sell Sell,” written by Alan Price, former keyboardist for British band The Animals. This song emerged during the band’s acoustic Wood Tour shows right before their 2012 hiatus, and it has now gained legs and popularity after being plugged in and added to the regular song rotation. “Love Tractor” followed and always gets people jumping and singing, with its call and response chorus and fast paced energy. But the pace quickly changed to more thoughtful and reflective with the first notes of “May Your Glass Be Filled,” a sweet slow ballad about the importance of being happy and loving those who surround you.
The downtime didn’t last, as keyboardist JoJo Hermann took the reins and tickled the first notes of NRBQ-penned “Help Me Somebody.” A favorite cover that maybe pops up once a tour, it had fans loudly singing along, high fiving their friends, and boogieing down to the Tin Pan Alley-style groove laid down on the keys. Instrumental jam “Party At Your Mama’s House” was short and succinct, seamlessly giving way to the first wails of “Drinking Muddy Water” from lead vocalist John “JB” Bell. A cover tune that was just debuted the previous weekend in New Orleans on Halloween, it was originally recorded by English rock band The Yardbirds, and certainly fit it just right with the rock, roll, and stomp theme of the night. Regular set closer and Saturday night staple “Henry Parsons Died” closed things out, perhaps a nod to good friends Bloodkin who kept the crowd entertained Saturday afternoon pre-show with a Bloody Mary brunch and plenty of music.
The second set opened with “From the Cradle,” a favorite from their 2006 album, Earth to America. “This Part of Town,” affectionately known by fans as simply TPOT, came next, and reminded fans of one of Panic’s most important lyrical messages: that even in times of trouble, where there is love, there is hope. “Papa Johnny Road” was fun and twangy, and then the band paused to bring out their second special guest of the weekend, Steep Canyon Rangers’ fiddle player, Nicky Sanders, to join the fun. The previous night saw an appearance from saxophonist jamband staple Karl Denson, and Sanders time on stage was just as much fun.
Standard Panic opus, “Driving Song” is one of few Panic tunes that transforms into something even more special with the addition of strings, and the light lilting bow work from Sanders gave the song an expanded bigger feeling, and was simply beautiful. A cover of Parliament’s “Maggot Brain” emerged from the middle “Driving” jam, a song the band loves bringing a guest musician out to help. However, that guest usually plays an electric guitar, so the fiddle added a different element, and gave it a more earthy, organic feel, unlike the piercing wail of a turned up electric. Sanders and lead guitarist Jimmy Herring spent time exchanging riffs, but it was a much silkier exchange than the typical guitar-offs. The bluegrassy-tinged song reappeared after “Maggot Brain,” ending with the instrumental follow-up “Breathing Slow.”
Loud, rocking instrumental “B of D” opened the second half of the set, segueing into “Chilly Water,” a commonplace pairing that seems to just be meant for each other. A soulful, swinging cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” was certainly a welcome addition, followed by a Panic staple “Contentment Blues.” The version was dark and dirty, even during the quietly swaying interlude between the ripping chorus and lyrical pieces. They found their way back into “Chilly” to end the set. The encore brought swan song “Pilgrims” into a fast, amped up version of “Protein Drink>Sewing Machine,” initially recorded with Panic side project Brute, a band that found master songwriter the late Vic Chesnutt at the helm. The songs are most certainly considered by fans as “metal Panic” and rightfully so.
The noisy in-your -face tunes are exactly the kind of variety fans seek night after night. The soft and the frantic, the country-tinged twang and the intense JB screams are just part of what makes Panic, well, Panic. Everyone left Asheville on Sunday feeling one collective emotion….satisfied.