Photo by Soren McCarty.
Widespread Panic Friday, June 27, 2008 Red Rocks Amphitheatre Better than: Listening from the Red Rocks parking lots.
I'll just say this straight up, and all you Spreadheads can hate me if you will (and you probably will): I don't like jam bands. More specifically, I don't like jams. They seem so goddamn self-indulgent and most of them don't even go anywhere -- why would I pay good money to listen to a bunch of dudes fuck around on stage, not even playing real songs? The only jam band I can marginally stand is the Grateful Dead. And I hate space jams; they make me want to puncture my eardrums with a blunt object. If I want to hear ambient noise, I'll go to an electronic-music show, thank you very much.
Even so, my husband-to-be loves jam bands. And he LOVES Widespread Panic! And he made me promise that if he could find tickets, I would go with him to a show at Red Rocks this past weekend.
Well, he found tickets, so on Friday night I found myself headed off to my first-ever Widespread Panic show. We headed up to the parking lot relatively late (we live right by Red Rocks) and met up with some friends -- who had made T-shirts bearing the words "Swamp," since they figured Panic was due to play that song -- before climbing the daunting stairs into the amphitheatre itself. The friends went off to their seats in the third row while I stood in line for a beer; by the time I was finished getting my drink, DJ Harry was playing for the crowd and our friends were nowhere to be found. Which was fine with me; I wasn't exactly looking forward to spending hours on end in the crush of the front rows for a band I don't even like.
We found seats about three-quarters of the way at the top of the amphitheatre and settled in. Panic took the stage promptly at 7:05 p.m. (I love it when the band comes out on time -- seriously; I feel like maybe I'm getting too old to wait around while they do whatever they're doing backstage).
The first set went like this: "Heroes," "The Old Neighborhood," "Holden," "Who Do You Belong To," "Angels on High," "Help Me Somebody," "North," "Vampire Blues" (with Mark Ford on guitar) and "Makes Sense to Me." And yes, I only know that because I looked it up online.
But here was the real shock: I didn't hate it! In fact, I even found myself getting down to some of those wicked groovy tunes -- but no noodle-dancing for me, thanks. While everyone around me flailed their limbs in a weird approximation of dancing, I just bobbed my head and moved my hips and enjoyed the sounds. The thing I liked the most was that even though Panic indulged in some jams (as I knew they would -- they might classify as Southern rock, but they're a jam band still), the jams weren't all self-indulgent and spacy. They were tightly orchestrated, with a methodical beginning, middle and end, still allowing the musicians to riff and mess around, but entirely listenable. I was pleasantly surprised.
We took a bathroom break while DJ Harry came back on stage; then it was time for the second set. They played "Porch Song," "Slippin Into Darkness" (with Ivan Neville on keys and vocals; this was actually my favorite song of the night), "Surprise Valley," "Bust It Big," "Drums," back into "Surprise Valley," "Low Spark," "Pigeons," back into "Low Spark" and finishing with "Give."
Another thing I liked about Panic: Their songs are a bit darker than your usual jam-band fare, and let's face it, Jimmy Herring is a guitar legend. The dude can seriously wail; he's a phenomenal player, and it was worth it to me to see him in his element at least once, even though I knew nothing about him prior to the show.
Panic left the stage for a few minutes before coming back for an encore of "Up All Night" and "Ain't Life Grand." "We'll see you tomorrow night," they called as they left the stage.
No, they didn't see me the following night, and maybe they'll never see me again -- but for someone as anti-jam band as I am, someone who never in a million years thought she'd be able to tolerate a Panic show, let alone enjoy it, they did something I thought was impossible: They changed my mind. As we left, I asked Damon (husband-to-be) where he would rank the show on a scale of one to ten, since I have no basis for comparison. "Six or seven," he replied. "Not bad, but they didn't break out anything that totally blew my mind." So if that show was a six or seven, then if he ever gets me another ticket to a Panic show, I'll probably go with him. I'll never be the girl in the front row singing along and noodle-dancing to every last tune, but I'll bob my head and enjoy the sounds -- even the jams. Now that's a miracle.
-- Amber Taufen
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I hate jam bands, but I didn't hate this show. Well done, guys -- well done. Random Detail: A girl I'd never met before in my life was talking to my boyfriend, saw me and said, "Oh my god! Amber! You came!" Apparently, my reputation as a jam-hater preceded me. It was awesome to have one person there who was super-excited at my presence. By the Way: I'm sorry for what I'm about to type -- hey, Spreadheads? Y'all can't dance for shit. Half the reason I like going out is to watch all the amazing dancers Denver has to offer. And when I'm arguably among the best dancers at Red Rocks, there is something very, very wrong. You're all very nice people, don't get me wrong. But seriously -- you can't dance to save your lives.