Widespread Panic finished its three-night run at Red Rocks Sunday afternoon with a bizarre, yet fitting show that offered a little bit of everything, and then some.
Sunday Red Rocks shows always start early at 4 p.m., which means if you went Saturday night, it almost feels like you turn around and drive back as soon as you get up. Add in the fact that if it’s hot (as it was this Sunday), you feel like wilting and running for cover, and the mood can be a bit more subdued. Fans hid in the shade where possible, and threw water on each other frequently to keep cool. Cheers greeted any small passing cloud that hid the sun for a minute or two.
The band came on with little fanfare, all sporting sunglasses, and launched into a smooth groove on “Wondering.” Bassist Dave Schools got the crowd bouncing with a rolling bass line, while John Bell’s voice showed no effects from three nights at altitude. When guitarist Jimmy Herring started the joyous intro riff to “Surprise Valley,” it seemed the band was reveling in being in its second home, especially when Bell sang “Kiss the mountain air we breathe.”
Schools stepped up again on “Stop-Go,” taking a bass solo before the song shifted into a reggae-ish beat. They followed with the hazardous-to-your-health, duck-and-cover, “Big Wooly Mammoth.” Keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann funked up the piano rolls a little, getting the song to lift off to a dizzying crescendo. However, when he sang “Somebody throw me a fire,” many in the audience threw lighters to the stage, and I saw at least one person who got beaned in the head with one of the thrown lighters who needed medical attention because he was bleeding from the wound.
There are a lot of rumors floating around in Panic land that the band is going to do its annual Halloween extravaganza up in Broomfield this year, a first for Colorado, which is one of only two states to host Panic’s New Year’s shows. The band may have teased the fans a little last night with that rumor, as they usually will play a few off-the-wall covers at Halloween.
The second set kicked off with “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” which got off to a slow start. After Schools shook the rafters with some bass bombs on the opening to “Bowlegged Woman,” Herring ripped into a dirty, sultry blues line on the main melody.
Next up was a fiery “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” with Herring giving a twangy take on the main riff on his Fender Telecaster. At this point, the astute in the audience noticed a trend: covers. In fact, the entire second set and encore consisted of cover tunes. Some of the covers were played almost straight up, such as “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Others, such as the James Taylor song “Knockin’ Round the Zoo,” were bent into Panic’s own style, with Herring and Schools looking into a rocking groove.
Herring took some songs into new directions. His gritty distortion on Neil Young’s “Walk On” propelled the song to a frenzy. Not to be outdone, Hermann dominated “Red Beans” with rolling barrelhouse piano. Panic even got a little metal going with an almost, but not quite, straight up cover of Black Sabbath’s “Fairies Wear Boots.”
What’s great about the Panic guys is they don’t take themselves too seriously. After doing a reprise of “Wild Thing” to start the encore, Schools stepped up and said “Be sure to tip your bartender on the way out.”
In a show of the regard they have for Colorado, the band launched into “Sultans of Swing” on the encore, which it has only played once before, at a show in February 2011 in Atlanta. Even if the band doesn’t return for Halloween, it’ll surely be rocking Colorado again soon.
Set 1: Wondering, Surprise Valley > Drums > Surprise Valley, C. Brown, Little Kin, Picking Up the Pieces, Stop-Go, Big Wooly Mammoth, Worry, Love Tractor, Conrad
Set 2: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature, Bowlegged Woman, Lawyers, Guns and Money, Can’t Find My Way Home, Mama Told Me (Not to Come), Knockin’ Round the Zoo, Walk On, I Walk on Gilded Splinters, Red Beans, Fairies Wear Boots, Sharon, Wild Thing
Encore: Wild Thing Reprise, Sultans of Swing, Goin’ Out West, End of the Show