Photos by Jim Mimna
The Scene: Halloween and the Jamband world are a perfect marriage and Friday night at the 1stBank Center proved that yet again. With Widespread Panic bringing their famed Halloween spectacle to Colorado for the first time in their storied history, the freaks were out in force and it was a beautiful sight! Costumes of all shapes and sizes milled around outside when we arrived and once we made it through the doors, the air was electric with anticipation and “holiday spirit.”
For a small arena, the 1stBank Center is a pretty good room despite lacking the intimacy and majesty of a place like Red Rocks and they are usually on point when it comes to service, but on Friday night the wheels came off the bus and said bus went off the cliff. If you were there, you know what I’m talking about, but for the rest of you imagine lines 15 people deep at bars where the registers were down and unable to accept credit cards OR cash before the show even started. Then fast forward to set-break when the venue was out of ice, soda water, bottled water and a variety of other things. Simply put it was a shit-show and I’m sure there were tens of thousands of dollars lost on alcohol sales alone. Remember that this is the same crowd that routinely drinks Red Rocks out of beer every summer despite their best efforts to plan for the thirsty hoards. That said, the bar situation didn’t seem to damped the spirits of anyone in the building as Halloween night descended on us with a vengeance.
Widespread Panic: JB welcomed the crowd with an enthusiastic “Happy Halloween, the official start of the Holiday Season” and the band came out of the gates charging with a raging “Pigeons” that seemed to take the energy in the room by the balls and crank it up a notch. The crowd was electric as they bounced in time and threw themselves deep into the groove that filled the air. On stage the band was locked together in “end-of-tour” shape and JB stood out dressed in a bright green Elf suit complete with wig and hat.
As the set moved on the energy stayed high with favorites like “C. Brown” and a version of “Rebirtha” that faded into a solo piano take on John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” (possibly in tribute to the Colorado music hall of famer whose bust had been stolen from the 1stBank Center just days before). After the band delivered a straightforward take on “Weight Of The World,” the first brand new cover of the evening had me jumping up and down with delight to the strains of the Neil Young classic “Heart of Gold.” The gem fit the band like a glove as JoJo laid down some tasty organ fills and JB’s drawl nailed Young’s vocal part as the crowd joined him in a rousing sing-a-long that set the stage for the huge combination of “Big Wooly Mammoth” and “Red Hot Mama” that set the room on fire.
The set closing “Sewing Machine” was an absolute blazing piece of Rock-n-Roll wizardry that assaulted the senses as Herring’s rapid fire solos mowed us down and left us breathless as we wandered out into the strangeness that is set-break on Halloween.
After some interesting encounters with an Egyptian princess, a team of spacemen, the Stay-Puff Marshmallow man, and Mork, I heard the unmistakable sounds of Cream’s “Strange Brew” emanating from the arena as I waited in a painfully slow drink line (see above). Anyway, the 1967 psychedelic masterpiece was chosen in honor of Jack Bruce who had recently passed away and was the perfect choice to usher us in from the break despite the fact that the original featured Eric Clapton on lead vocals and not Bruce (who was Cream’s lead singer.)
From there the second set really took off and featured several more covers and bust-outs galore over the course of more than 90 minutes of inspired playing. The first “Dirty Business” in 150 shows showcased the band’s ability to slow things down a bit with it’s loping shuffle, but a little later JB and company really turned the tables on us by debuting a cover of Zeppelin’s Reggae infused “D’yer Mak’er.” While I wasn’t sure JB’s voice would be up to the tune, he surprised me by handling Plant’s vocals fairly well as fans glanced at each other with looks of joy and surprise.
After an extended drum jam that proved Duane Trucks and Sunny had really gelled this Fall, the band dusted off “Arleen” for the first time since March. What followed to wrap the set up was the reason fans follow bands like Widespread Panic around for years. Trucks and Sonny had dressed up as Cheech & Chong (complete with a giant joint on stage) but no one expected the band to drop a cover of the comedic duo’s “Earache My Eye” into the set, but they did just that before turning to the Sabbath catalog to continue the metal onslaught with the first “Sweet Leaf” since 2000. While it’s a song that typically appears in set-lists around Halloween, it had been shelved for so long that it stunned and thrilled the capacity crowd as Trucks again proved his worth behind the kit and Herring displayed superhuman heroics on the guitar.
Always the gentlemen, the band allowed us a few minutes to catch our breath as they returned to the dressing room for a brief encore break only to re-emerge with a three song offering that took us from a relatively rare “Wishbone” through to a fitting “End of the Show” that sent the mob of costumed fans spilling out into the night with visions of what the next two nights held in store dancing in their heads.
Stage Presence: B