A lightning storm hovered over and interrupted Widespread Panic’s first set on the opening evening of this two-night stand, and it could have been a symbolic omen for the music. However, toss out that idea. Panic came out for the second set, defying nature and the odds, and played an almost flawless and segue-laden series of wonderfully invigorating tunes. Alas, guitarist Michael Houser would tragically pass away 14 months later, after a bout with pancreatic cancer, but the latest Porch Songs archival release is a fine indicator of just how strong the original classic Panic formation actually was at that time.
Not that the first set on 6/19/01 is anything to rain upon, mind you. Panic came out and delivered some rousing jams on “Space Wrangler > Stop-Go > Weight of the World,” and a very robust “Proving Ground,” which contained “Do What You Like.” And the weather did—promptly and prematurely shutting down the Panic’s set after they segued back into “Proving Ground.” Ironically, the sextet were allegedly about to end the set with “Porch Song” but, not on this evening.
The 6/19 second set, as mentioned, is where the band catch fire, and never really turn down the heat. “Porch Song” makes its belated appearance in the second place slot, but it is the massive “Driving Song” sandwich, containing a ferocious “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” a surprisingly engaging and thematically-correct “drums,” fed into a tasty jam sequence, before a return to “Driving Song” opened another improv gateway into a closing 20-minute plus sequence that glides, soars, bends, escalates, and accelerates in tempo while never sounding monotonous, trite, or worse, boring. Suffice to say, that Panic detractors who quibble about the lack of taste and substance within the live WSP milieu should hear this show and revise their opinion. Obviously, this writer has spent some time in that haters’ camp, too, and there’s nothing like returning to an earlier relationship, and finding that it did, indeed, have some fairly remarkable qualities.
The second night of the run didn’t have quite the same meteorological phenomenon present, and so that only seemed to loosen Panic’s playing up even further. In a way, the first set is more like the relaxed southern side of the veteran jamband’s personality, and that suits the material and the music perfectly. The opening duo of “Surprise Valley > Tall Boy” works quite well within that context, but it is the epic sprawl of “Chilly Water > Sometimes > Chilly Water” where Panic really kicks it all into overdrive. Later, the band wisely slows it down some with a fine reading of “Casa Del Grillo” and the country honk shuffle beat of “The Waker,” but the closing “Climb Safely > Imitation Leather Shoes” tandem is a welcome dose of southern fried rock to help bookend the set.
The second set is all over the place with covers and originals plus some jams that defy logic for their unpredictable pace and fluidity. And “all over the place” is a good thing because the set opens with the Robert Johnson tune, with more than a tinge of the Exile on Main Street -era Rolling Stones’ track, “Stop Breakin’ Down,” a blissful “Party at Your Mama’s House,” which segues into a lovely bit of “Wondering,” before Panic really kicks out the varied and seamless jams with a sublime “Rebirtha > Henry Parsons Died,” duo which eventually finds it way into a patient version of “Sharon.” Later, Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” heads a final audio triumvirate that features a wonderfully mellow and multi-textured “The Last Straw” before finally detouring into a cover of the early Grateful Dead rocker “Cream Puff War,” which lifts band and audience and all y’all up off yo feet.
As archival releases go, Panic seems to be hitting well above average on all of their recent choices, and these two from Paolo Soleri, in the final year before Michael Houser’s untimely passing, do, indeed, showcase the jamband still very much at their peak, and ready to deliver two completely different yet thoroughly exhilarating gigs.