November 12-14, 2009
It’s not Atlanta’s Fabulous Fox, but Oakland’s new Fox Theater was a buzz this past weekend, as Southern giants Widespread Panic returned to the SF Bay Area for a trio of performances.
The weekend marked nearly a three year drought since the band’s last stop through the area, and local fans and travelling fanatics alike showed up to celebrate the return. In a weekend that featured guest sit-ins, exploratory jamming and good ‘ole fashion rock, Widespread Panic continued to prove that you "Can’t stop the train/Gotta let it roll on." The trip has been a series of long stretches through the plains, sidewinders and plenty of uphill battles, but the band has been rolling steady for over 25 years with an engine that doesn’t seem to show sign or wear and tear.
Friday and Saturday nights were the standouts, with Friday taking the cake as the hot show of the run. Starting right out of the gate with more rockers than the previous evening, Jimmy "Fucking" Herring took the group through a rompous "Junior" which immediately had the room shaking.
Herring all weekend seemed to channel some Garcia, nodding to some classic guitar lines that made area natives feel right at home. His presence has exponentially grown since joining the band in 2006 with the rest of the band finding his rhythm, and on-stage the playfulness between him and John (JB) Bell is inspiring to watch. Honestly, Herring may be the best thing that has happened to the band in many years.
If there was such a thing as a perfect first set, Friday’s slew of oldies, hits and covers took it to that level. To cap the set, they tapped Jerry Joseph to come and lead the band through his "Light Is Like Water." It was a guitar-fest during the jam that closed out the set, as Herring, Bell and Joseph traded lick after lick, and fans were left buzzing until the next day from the excitement.
Friday’s second set picked up right where it had left off after the quick setbreak, and by show’s end, Panic had run through many more classics, and a hefty segue that didn’t seem to want to stop. Another guest, Wally Ingram, took the stage to share some percussion duties and spark up a great jam with another rarity, "Just Kissed My Baby." The encore of "End of Show" was a perfect cliffhanger to lead into the Saturday performance.
Unfortunately, it was obvious midway through Saturday’s first set that this was not the same band as the previous evening. The energy level was significantly lower, and while the band delivered a decent show, it felt flat compared to Friday’s behemoth. From the first notes of "From the Cradle," the band embodied a strong resemblance to the sounds of Dire Straits as Herring and Jojo Hermann took the lead.
The second set also didn’t seem to be able to recover from Friday’s hotness, and though the band got into a great jam out of "Conrad," the "Drums" was more of a drums > space than just a drum jam. The nod to the Dead was duly noted but looking around, it was clear that it was the fatal mistake of the evening, as many took their seats, went for last drinks, or took off early; the room was noticeably affected.
Despite the rollercoaster weekend, it was without a doubt a great three day stand, and one that Bay Area fans won’t forget too soon. The venue was a perfect space for Panic, and sounded so great, that there can only be hopes for another return soon to the area to grace everyone with more jams.
Click the thumbnail for more shots from Oakland
Set 1: Goodpeople > Dark Bar > Goodpeople, Aunt Avis > Time Zones, Chest Fever, Chainsaw City, Clinic Cynic > I Walk On Guilded Splinters > Old Neighborhood, Impossible
Set 2: Sometimes > Papa’s Home > Bear’s Gone Fishin’, Climb To Safety > Postcard > Airplane > Drums > Papa’s Home > Jam > Slippin’ Into Darkness*, North, You Got Yours
Encore: Her Dance Needs No Body, Last Dance
* with Steve Lopez on percussion
Set 1: Junior, Solid Rock, Happy > Goin’ Out West, Big Wooly Mammoth, Pigeons, Crazy, Walkin’ (For Your Love) > Don’t Be Denied, Light Is Like Water*
Set 2: Tie Your Shoes > Blight > All Time Low > Blight > Just Kissed My Baby**, C. Brown** > Wondering > Porch Song > Arleen > Red Hot Mama > Love Tractor
Encore: End Of The Show
* with Jerry Joseph on guitar/vocals
** with Wally Ingram on percussion
Set 1: From The Cradle > Weight Of The World, Visiting Day > Christmas Katie > Radio Child, Dyin’ Man, Tortured Artist > Me And The Devil Blues, Proving Ground > Bust It Big > Proving Ground
Set 2: Blackout Blues, Flicker > Under The Radar Jam > Driving Song > Pusherman > Driving Song, Conrad > Drums > The Masquerade > Angels on High > Henry Parsons Died > Tall Boy
Encore: Pilgrims, Travelin’ Light