Red Rocks Amphitheatre
June 26, 2011
Back in 2008, a long standing record was broken when Widespread Panic took the lead for taking part in the most sold-out performances of any band in the celebrated history of the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Fast-forward to the present day, the year in which the band has celebrated its 25th anniversary, and theirÂ triumphant three night sold-out run in Morrison over the course of the last weekend in June.
Before a note was played, the anticipation was at a boiling point. The unknown had fans going through the standard series of predictions, desires and the like. But the band knew what was in store. In speaking with bassist Dave Schools in the hours that led up to the opening licks, he advised that people should “pace themselves.” In retrospect, the allusion is clear, for if nothing else, he knew that there was something extra tasty that would come down the pike over the course of the next three days â€” primarily on Sunday, which would provide the scorching hot finale that annihilated all in attendance.
While nights one and two of the Red Rocks run were mighty fine and featured rarities such as “L.A.,” “Glory,” Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like,” “Take Out” and “Vacation,” it was that final Sunday outing that will be remembered many years from now.
It should first be noted that Sunday shows in general are a bit of a Panic phenomenon for several reasons.Â First of all, it is typically the final night of a multi-night run â€” meaning that fans have endured several days of pre, post, and interim show partying. Second, Sunday is typically a travel day, as most fans are returning back to their normal everyday lives after a weekend of musical bliss and are in need of that extra something to spawn them into being the productive citizens that they need to be.Â Third, Sunday is time to go to church!
Widespread Panic seems to be acutely aware of these factors and often does a little something special on Sundays. This has lead to the rule of the Widespread follower’s road: “Never miss a Sunday show.”
The Red Rocks Sunday finale performance would go a long way towards reinforcing this rule as the boys put on what was arguably one of the best Sunday shows to date and furthermore, is easily in the top five performances with guitarist Jimmy Herring.
The show kicked off with the light and upbeat “Wondering,” always a great number for a daytime show that references the blue sky above. “Surprise Valley” was up next. Thematically continuing the nature trend, this staple song seems to have been handcrafted for shows on the west coast, primarily through its lyrical content wherein front man John Bell belts “Kiss the mountain air we breathe.”
The set was unremitting with classic originals â€” one after the next â€” and a sound coming from Jimmy’s guitar that was new and fresh.Â This was perhaps most evident in “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” “Stop-Go” and “Big Wooly Mammoth.” Though it has yet to be confirmed, a new pedal added to Herring’s rig may be responsible for the new and highly enjoyable swelling tone that was stemming from the maestro’s guitar.
All in all, this was a killer start to the final show of the three night run, but few (if any) were prepared for the antics that the second set would bring. Perhaps an opening set consisting solely of originals should have been a sign.
The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight” kicked off set two. The fast paced rendition featured lead singer John Bell’s raspy vocals on this band favorite that has been in the setlist rotation since they formed in 1985.Â Pushing onward was Dave School’s powerful bass line intro to “Bowlegged Woman,” a song made famous by Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy’s brainchild, Hot Tuna. It was eight plus minutes of fist pumping goodness.Â The next tune up was another cover song in Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”Â At this point, it was apparent that something was up and Dave School’s words from earlier in the week regarding set list creation bubbled up in my mind. “We’re not exactly known for following the rules,” Schools had said.
As anticipation grew, many thoughts arose.Â One fan would whisper to another, “Could it be a set of all cover songs?” while another would retort, “If so, would it last through the encore?Â What other rare tunes / breakouts would they play?” There were so many questions that thankfully, would soon be answered.
Sure enough, the band continued to amaze the crowd as they played an inspired set of all cover songs, an occurrence that was the first in Widespread’s history.Â There were almost too many highlights to name them all.Â Personally, it is always a treat to hear John Bell’s emotional outpouring on Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My way Home,” wherein the crooner owned the line, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, Sometimes I feel like a bird up in the sky, So far from my home.”
While many of the cover songs in the set are part of the group’s standard rotation, there were a select few that are seldom played and might even be considered bustouts.Â Most notably were “Sultans of Swing” which was a much improved version of this second time played song that premiered in Atlanta on 2/14/11 and “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” a tune that has not seen the light of day since 2009.Â Another real treat was “I Walk on Guilded Splinters.” This Dr. John tune was filled with unified and spirited interplay between all members and this united front spilled into the crowd, who literally seemed to be shaken into unison as the sound emanated from the stage.
The colossal set closed with “Wild Thing” (Chip Taylor) which had not made an appearance since Halloween 2001 and was only the third time the song had been played in the band’s history.
During the brief intermission between the close of the second set and well-earned encore, the dumbfounded crowd had given up on guessing what was to come. At this point, audience member Stephen T. Love was overheard proclaiming that “all bets are off.”
As the band made their way back to the stage, Dave Schools and John Bell addressed the crowd.Â They said, “You no lika de song you no lika de ending, you no lika de ending you no lika de cover band” just before they went back into “Wild Thing;” proving that the band was having just as much of a blast as their adoring throng was.
This insanity would not cease as there were more songs to be played.Â The show closed out with (second time played) Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” and Bloodkin’s “End of the Show.”
Shortly after JB plucked the final notes of “End of the Show,” the PA music blasted, signifying the end of a stellar weekend and left the crowd to reflect on what they had just witnessed. Despite some minor flaws in the playing, likely brought on by the sheer energy of the moment, it was a tight show and certainly one for the history books.
In summation, what took place that day was not just a concert. Furthermore, it was not just a Widespread Panic show. Rather, it had been an experience at one of the nation’s greatest venues and Â Â as the multitude of gatherers slowly made their way down the scenic walkway gazing at the beautiful rock formations that encapsulate the amphitheatre, that rule of the road was once again evident: never miss a Sunday show!
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Setlist (Courtesy of www.PanicStream.com)
I: Wondering > Surprise Valley > C. Brown, Little Kin, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Stop-Go > Big Wooly Mammoth, Worry, Love Tractor, Conrad
II: No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature, Bowlegged Woman, Lawyers, Guns, And Money, Can’t Find My Way Home, Mama Told Me Not To Come, Knocking ‘Round The Zoo, Walk On > Jam > I Walk On Guilded Splinters > Red Beans, Fairies Wear Boots > Sharon > Wild Thing
Encore: Wild Thing Reprise, Sultans of Swing > Goin’ Out West, End Of The Show
[Only “Wild Thing Reprise;” Last “Wild Thing” – 10/31/01, 688 shows]
To download the soundboard recording of this show from Live Widespread Panic, click here.
For audience recordings and streams, click here. Â