Review: Widespread Panic

(Above: Widespread Panic jam with DJ Logic at a 2008 show in Charlotte, N.C.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Call it hippie-hop. The surprise appearance by DJ Logic late into Widespread Panic’s sprawling set at the Midland Theater Tuesday night set both the evening and the audience on its ear.

Singer John Bell may have been claiming “this ain’t no nightclub” during the jam band’s faithful cover of the Talking Heads song “Life During Wartime,” but Logic’s turntables and the mood of the room said otherwise.

Logic’s scratching added another texture to the Georgia-based jam band’s already expansive palate. As the evening’s wild card, he pushed and challenged the Georgia-based jam band to meet his challenge.

Percussionist  Sonny Ortiz responded by soloing around a loop that Logic provided. Keyboard player JoJo Hermann sprinkled some ‘80s synth sounds into his normal B3 repertoire. The result was a jam/rap hybrid somewhere between Snoop Dogg and Ratdog.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The sextet was three hours into their set and had just wrapped a marathon performance of “Hatfield” when Logic -– who was in town for his own engagement at Crosstown Station -– and his turntables rolled out of stage left. Based on the legend of Fort Scott, Kan., Native Charles Hatfield, the song was the biggest moment so far. With the house lights up for the chorus, the crowd enthusiastically sang along.

As the band made its way from “Hatfield” into “Fishwater,” the crowd predicted the number and erupted. What had been bob-and-weave dancing before turned into some serious getting down. After several minutes of “Fishwater,” the group suddenly doubled the tempo kicked into the Heads number. Panic covered the Heads song “Papa Legba” in their first set, but thoroughly assimilated everything but the signature guitar riff into their own monolithic sound. “Wartime,” however, felt and sounded like the second coming of “Stop Making Sense.”

Although nothing topped their half-hour with Logic, there many other memorable moments throughout the night. A marathon reading of “Diner” primed the pump for “Hatfield.” Hermann channeled Billy Preston during a medley of the instrumental “Disco” and the song “You Should Be Glad.” Earlier in the night, he applied Stevie Wonder’s clavinet sound to “Worried.”

“Barstools & Dreamers” started with a slap bass and slide guitar intro and drew the first signs of fervor. Bell unleashed a guitar solo in that number that sounded like his instrument was strung with barbed wire. The instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House” was the product of acoustic and slide guitars, slap bass and buoyant percussion. It felt like sipping lemonade on the back porch then kicking a soccer ball around on the beach.

Tuesday night was the band’s first two shows in town, and the Midland was far from sold out. Although the floor was packed, there were acres of empty seats in the balcony. Panic probably could have packed the house by playing a one-night stand, but brevity and efficiency seem to be less important than passion and ability.

When the band finally said good night, they had been performing for nearly four hours (including a 40 minute intermission). Anyone wanting more would have to wait another 20 hours until the start of tonight’s show.

Better Off, Little Kin; Worried, Gradl; Barstools & Dreamners; Jack; Lil’ Drums; Papa Legba (Talking Heads cover); Party at Your Mama’s House; Ribs and Whiskey. Intermission. Let’s Get Down to Business; Disco;  You Should Be Glad, Diner; Hatfield; Fishwater (with DJ Logic); Life During Wartime (Talking Heads cover, with DJ Logic); drum solo (with DJ Logic); Fishwater (with DJ Logic). Encore: Nobody’s Loss; Fixin’ to Die.