Artist: Widespread Panic
Album: Live from Austin, TX / CD & DVD
Label: New West Records
Release Date: 10.27.17
The crowd was unusually rowdy for an Austin City Limits hootenanny. If Widespread Panic was looking for a good time, the long-running jam band found it.
Feeding off the energy of a lively audience on the venerable PBS music show, the Athens, Georgia outfit—never ones to do the same gig twice—delivered a wide-ranging, triumphant Halloween performance in 2000 that made those in attendance positively giddy. The group’s summery warmth and a strong set list had the desired effect.
Feeling frisky, Widespread Panic negotiated the well-chosen covers and beloved originals with the kind of mischievous unpredictability and adventurous improvisational blowouts that have always slammed their live sets into overdrive. None of their exuberant vitality is lost in a new pressing of that wild show on sumptuous 180-gram vinyl, the 2-LP set housed in an attractive gatefold gussied up with a few black-and-white concert photos and a short, tone-setting historical commentary from Austin City Limits producer Terry Lickona.
As an ecstatic celebration of the spirited, genre-mixing whimsy of Widespread Panic’s classic lineup, Live from Austin, TX hits the mark. Their onstage instrumental chemistry reminiscent of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic takes detours down twisting, unmapped roads in an extended, 18-minute joy ride across the medley “Driving Song/Surprise Valley/Driving Song No. 2” before exploding into a free-for-all of searing guitar solos, wild percussion and mushrooming clouds of organ. Their driving version of JJ Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” also ends in fiery fashion, while “Dyin’ Man” emits a raucous, bluesy howl that is Southern to the core and they set a brisk pace in a rollicking “Ain’t Life Grand.”
Sadly, founding member Michael “Panic” Houser died two years later of pancreatic cancer. No tears were shed on this particular night, not with steamy country psychedelic stews “Space Wrangler” and “Climb to Safety” to savor and a lovely spell cast by the easy, flamenco flutter and sway of “Casa Del Grillo.”