The boys returned to NYC for three shows at historic Radio City Music Hall to kick off their fall tour featuring new guitarist Jimmy Herring. Herring is the third (or fourth if you count John Keane's contributions) guitar player in the last few years. When Mikey Houser died, George McConnell took over. During summer tour in Colorado, I heard rumors that they were kicking George out. When I caught the Panic shows in LA, I noticed that George played exceptionally well. I suggested that he was auditioning to industry types for a future gig. Most recently, it was announced that joined the Black Crowes.
I still dunno what really happened, but Jimmy Herring is an amazing musician. I've seen him play with Phil Lesh the most and he sorta/kinda replaced Jerry Garcia in the reincarnation of The Dead. That was one of the toughest jobs in the history of music. It was like when Tino Martinez replaced Don Mattingly at first base for the Yankees. Like Tino, Jimmy Herring did better than expected.
A good old boy from North Carolina, Jimmy started playing with the Aquarium Rescue Unit which featured Col. Bruce Hampton. He's also played with the Codetalkers (along with Hampton) and with the Allman Brothers Band. When Widespread Panic announced the addition of Herring to their lineup, JW said, "A return to their southern rock roots. I love it."
Indeed I was eager to see Herring thrown into the mix. I also knew that the first few shows would have flat moments. The majority of guys on stage have been playing together for almost twenty years, so it would be natural that Herring needed time to adjust and find his own way with the band. I was spoiled for my last four Panic shows. I caught them this summer twice at Red Rocks in Colorado with the Joker. Then Nicky and I caught them in Hollyweird at the Wiltern Theatre, which I thought were raging shows.
9.15.06 Radio City Music Hall, New York, NYI went to the Friday show with Bruce. He's seen Panic a few times, mostly with me. I think his last show was at RCMH. Anyway, we had first mezzanine and that's not a bad place. The sounds gets a little fuzzy if you are off to the sides. We were smack in the middle near a few tapers and everything was solid sound wise.
Set 1: From The Cradle > Little Kin > Radio Child > This Part of Town, Jack, Diner, Blue Indian, Dyin Man > Makes Sense to Me > Ain't Life Grand
Set 2: All Time Low > Fishwater, Me and the Devil, Time is Free** > Fixin' to Die**, Surprise Valley > Drums > Surprise Valley > Pilgrims > Climb to Safety
Encore: Nobody's Loss > Love Tractor
Notes: ** Col. Bruce Hampton appeared on vocals
John Keane played on Pedal Steel during the first set and guitar in the second set. Jeff "Birddog" Lane sat in on percussion during drums
The boys took the stage at 8:20pm as the late arriving crowd took their seats. Over the first half hour they progressively got better. I don't think I'd pick From The Cradle > Little Kin > Radio Child > This Part of Town as my dream openers, but a funkified Radio Child was the definite highlight in that opening segue. I particularly dig the second half of the set. I had no problems with Jack, Diner, and Blue Indian. Herring was still finding his own during those classic Panic tunes.
They closed the set with a power sandwich of Dyin Man > Makes Sense to Me > Ain't Life Grand. The first half of Aint Life Grand was all smoke even though they lost the intensity towards the end. I don't expect that to happen in future shows as Herring gets his shit together.
It was a drunk show for me as I consumed the majority of my liquor in the first set. Cocktails and beers are $8. With a $50 ticket plus Ticketbastard charges, drinking heavily at RCMH means the show costs at least $100 in all including liquor. The bar lines at setbreak are atrocious, so I made sure I got good and liquored up pre-show and during the first set.
Our area was mellow and the ushers let everyone dance and smoke freely. The mezzanine area ended up becoming general admission and you could sit or dance anywhere there was space. One guy took a few steps in and looked around.
"Who's burning down the skunky shit?" he said as he looked right at me.
I gave him my best poker face and shrugged my shoulders. An older hippie from Australia sat behind us. He was in town on holiday and stopped by the Virgin record store in Times Square. He listened to a few Panic CDs there and decided to check them out. He bought a ticket to Thursday's show. He went in cold and had a good enough time that he bought a ticket to the Friday show. The kids in front of us were under 21. One wore a Dave Matthews Band shirt and the other wore a String Cheese summer tour shirt. I gave them a little shit, but they were nice guys.
The opening of set 2 impressed me. Usually All Time Low is solid and rocking a set closer. One of the best versions I ever saw happened in NYC at the Beacon Theatre a few years ago. I saw that show with Senor. But the All Time Low > Fishwater opener was sizzling. Col. Bruce Hampton came out and sang vocals on Time is Free > Fixin' to Die. As soon as Col. Bruce took the stage, Herring had a boost in confidence. It was nice to heard some of that old southern jam-rock that I was exposed to during college.
Over the last few years, I've developed a fondness for Surprise Valley. I wanted to hear it and they played it. I could not have been happier. After drums, they finished up a tantalizing Surprise Valley and segued into crowd favorites Pilgrims > Climb to Safety.
Widespread Panic knows how to end their shows. They played two songs during the encore including Love Tractor, which I still hear from time to time on TBS as their outro music to commercials during Atlanta Braves games.
Overall, it was a fun night. Good crowd. Great sound. Amazing venue. And Jimmy Herring's addition to the band has gotten me more and more excited about seeing future shows. I he was this good during his second ever show with the band, what will he sound like at the end of the tour?
One more show to go on Saturday.