The Wood Tour -- named as a reference to the purely-acoustic setting of the shows -- has been an eleven-show way for Widespread Panic to reconnect with their fans on a much more intimate level at smaller venues before taking a break from touring in 2012. Colorado marks the end of the tour, with three sold out nights at theFillmore
and three in Aspen, giving Panic fans one last chance to see their band for some time.
Taking the stage last night just after 8:20, the band meandered out with Jimmy Herring, John Bell and Dave Schools taking seats in appropriately-wooden chairs like friends gathering around a fireplace on a cold winter night to pick a bit and swap songs. Singer John Bell giving a humble wave to the screaming crowd before easing into the weekend with crisp, clear versions of "From the Cradle" and "Can't Get High"
Though he lacked his usual overdrive, effects and most importantly volume, Herring played his part throughout the night with subtlety on his rich, beautiful toned custom Baxindale acoustic. At times he was nearly electric, others he gave way to the tones of the acoustic guitar with flourishes of Spanish guitar, country twang and honky-tonk. Herman was equally as toned down, stripped of his signature Goff B-3 organ, he relied on a standup piano through almost the entire night. Though Herring and Herman were obvious shifts in sound for the normally heavy Widespread Panic Sound, Schools represented one of the biggest sonic shifts. Normally behind a thundering bass rig and six string electric, his toned-down four-string acoustic approach was simpler. Content more to thump out a simple bassline at times as opposed to playing down huge fills, Schools sat like a happy like a Buddha through the night. And in a way, that summed up the entire band's sound: less, in this case, was more.
More room for the musicians to move around without crowding each other in notes. More room for Bell's emotional, gruff-but-warm voice to carry over the music and his rhythmic Gibson acoustic. More room for piano lines to burst, for Herring's guitar work to stand on its own without the usual over-driven Strat sound, and for percussionist Sunny Ortiz to add his tribal touch without melting into the powerhouse sound that Widespread Panic normally carries. It's a fitting approach for a time of year when snowfalls force you to stay in and reflect on the simple things like good music and good friends.
For all the room on stage and in the music, however, things were packed under the purple chandeliers of the Fillmore. The band made extra effort to ensure that only the most fervent fans were in attendance and scalpers who usually make a decent profit off of the band's Red Rocks concerts were left out in the cold by making every ticket an e-ticket linked to a credit card. That meant that any asshole charging more than face value had to walk in the people who bought the tickets in person. Still, there were a few extremely-rare extra ticket out front was going for hundreds of dollars over face.
The ticket situation caused backups in the lines outside, but the tradeoff was getting one of the most respectfully rowdy crowds inside. They let quieter songs This Part of Town and Pickin' Up the Pieces, Nobody's Loss go by without a murmur, while whooping and hollering through tunes like "Who Do You Belong To" and "Stop Breakin' Down".
Most songs followed their traditional arrangement, but a select few seemed to get a new life with the acoustic treatment, like a Johnny Cash country version of "Imitation Leather Shoes" and an almost flamenco flare from Herring during "Travelin' Man". Though most of the songs were tight and the band didn't wander far out into the noodle jamband world, they did stretch out a few songs. Notably a lengthy jam out of "Christmas Katy" that led into the highlight of the second set: a dirty, bluesy "Good Morning Little School Girl".
The band closed out the show with "Old Chunk of Coal", a country tune with a light jazzy swing to it and words about redemption and someday shining like a diamond. John Anderson wrote the song, but Billy Joe Shaver made the song popular, at least among Texas music fans. And that adds to how badass the song choice actually is. See, Billy Joe Shaver shot a man in the face outside of Austin back in 2007 and got away with it. Not a face-rocking show closer by any means, but it was a much more appropriate way to end night one while setting the tone and pace for the rest of the weekend.
Widespread Panic plays Saturday and Sunday night at the Fillmore. Here's hoping you've already got your tickets, because the rest of the shows have been sold out for quite some time. After that, the band moves on to the tiny Belly Up in Aspen from the 17 through the 19. Like the Fillmore run: if you don't have tickets by now, you're out of luck.
Page down for the setlist and Critic's Notebook.
Widespread Panic The Fillmore Auditorium February 10, 2012
Set I: From The Cradle, Can't Get High, Worry, Clinic Cynic, St Louis > Wondering, Gradle, This Part of Town, Don't Wanna Lose You, Imitation Leather Shoes (56 mins)
Set II: Holden Oversoul, Who Do You Belong To?*, Travelin' Man > Party At Your Mama's House > Stop Breakin Down Blues, Christmas Katie > JAM > Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Pickin' Up The Pieces, Nobody's Loss, Space Wrangler, Climb To Safety (78 mins)
Encore: Don't Be Denied, Up All Night, Chunk of Coal* (16 mins)
(Setlist from PanicStream.com)
Personal Bias: Seeing a band in a venue that is less than half the size they normally play is a treat for any music fan and instantly makes a show more special.
Random Detail: I have no idea why, but he Fillmore smelled a fish fry last night before the show.
By the Way: While the convenience of having the shows in Denver is obvious, three nights in Vail at Dobson Arena would have been that much more epic. Maybe next year...
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