Photos by Kelsey Winterkorn
The Fox Theater in Downtown Oakland originally opened its doors in October 1928. This was when Downtown Oakland had a vibrant scene with live venues, department stores, and people crowding the sidewalks in every direction. Times changed and in 1966 the Fox Theater closed its doors indefinitely. After an extensive renovation the venue reopened this past February.
Outside the Fox, fans spilled out into the street in every direction, some trying to get tickets to the sold out show, some waiting to meet friends, others just taking pictures with the beaming neon marquee as a backdrop. Once inside, the impressive lobby area with its art deco design, offered a clean but antique feeling. With spacious clean bathrooms, an old fashion coat check, and a wall covered with an Westinghouse Electronic stage switchboard most likely from the 1930’s, it incorporates some of the historical aspects of the original building. The Fox has a beautiful mezzanine and balcony with excellent sweeping views, while the seats are surprisingly comfortable if rarely used as many patrons take advantage of the generous space between the rows to dance
Widespread came onstage at 8:15 and began to play almost instantaneously, which caught a lot of people off guard. The opener, “From the Cradle,” was musically lucent and an exceptional way to start off the night, very clean and concise. Then came “Weight of the World”, a heavy song by all means, which came across as portly and bluesy, with JoJo Hermann, showcasing his abilities on the piano. During the jammed out portion of “Weight”, Herring and Bell went back and forth on the guitar with Herring leading the way as Bell matched his intensity. After “Visiting Day,” a saloon song of days gone past and a show mainstay that is not on any of their albums, Panic took a slow jam into “Christmas Katie” from 1999’s ‘Til The Medicine Takes. Things really started to heat up here as Jimmy Herring took the lead on guitar with John Bell walking over to him at one point till they were just feet apart, facing each other and creating some of the most intense music of the night. Pleasantly, they then changed the tempo without changing the song and explored “Christmas Katie” for at least ten minutes if not more.
“Radio Child” followed and not only showcased Bell’s husky southern drawl but also featured Dave Schools holding down a very loose and almost funky bass line while Herring hit the wah wah pedals. Then they delivered an ambient “Tortured Artist” where once again the band would once again change the tempo midstream and slow it down to explore the outer regions of the song’s limitations. A lot of credit should go to Schools, Todd Nance on the drums and Sunny Ortiz on percussion as they really were the glue that set the tempo and kept the songs grounded. Ortiz later shined on “Proving Ground,” where he kept things interesting, with his amazing handiwork on the cowbell and shakers, as well as congas and bongos. “Proving” flowed into “Bust it Big,” which appears on the live album Night of Joy with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. It was amazing to see Herring playing the guitar as if it were a saxophone, even if this was short-lived as the band went back into “Proving Ground,” finishing the song on a very high note and wrapping up the first set with style.
The second set felt a bit looser, clocking in at nearly an hour and three quarters. A sequence that began with “Flicker” was a highlight. Herring led the band to incredible highs, while the rhythm section slowed things down and then Herring took it low and passed it over to Schools, who was bouncing from side to side. “Under the Radar,” a jam in itself, then went back into another “Jam,” which began more conflicted with multiple instruments playing over each other. The group figured things out quickly though and it soon took on a very cool signature of its own, very reminiscent of Pink Floyd. This jam went into “Driving Song”, a fan favorite from their first album, 1988’s Space Wrangler, into a fun and lyrically powerful “Pusherman” and then back into “Driving Song.”
After “Conrad,” the guitarists left the stage they smoothly transitioned into “Drums,” with Ortiz at the fore on congas for some time. A bit later both Nance and Schools re-entered the Jam, with the unseen bassist complementing the sound perfectly. The “Drums” session was high energy, literally moving the crowd, and as the band came back out onto the stage they jumped right into “The Masquerade” and “Angels on High.” An already lengthy set then featured “Henry Parsons Died,” which led into “Tall Boy,” a storied drinking song that Bell bellowed as the band responded with big gestures, drawing it out for a few extra minutes before closing the second set.
The encore opened with a mellow, delicate “Pilgrims” which caught a lot of people off guard. Widespread Panic then ramped up it for a picture perfect “Travelin’ Light,” which in more ways than one said, “We bid you good night…until next time.” It was the proper end to a complete show that left the audience wanting more. The best shows always do.
Setlist, Widespread Panic, Fox Theater, Oakland, CA – 11/14
1: From The Cradle > Weight of the World, Visiting Day > Christmas Katie > Radio Child, Dyin’ Man, Tortured Artist > Jam > Me and the Devil Blues, Proving Ground > Bust It Big > Proving Ground
2:Blackout Blues, Flicker > Jam > Under The Radar Jam > Jam > Driving Song > Pusherman > Driving Song, Conrad >Drums > This Masquerade > Angels on High, Henry Parsons Died > Tall Boy
E: Pilgrims, Travelin’ Light