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Widespread Panic

City Market -- Friday, July 14, 2000


Jam bands are an interesting phenomenon. To those on the outside, the music is a tedious exercise in mostly pointless noodling, but those on the inside hear a rich musical tapestry, rife with riffs that make a nod to the past and give clues to the action ahead. With a set that started with the Yank Rachell classic "She Caught the Katy" before the band meandered into "Barstools" and ultimately "Fishwater," Widespread Panic had the insiders in hemp heaven Friday night at the City Market.

Having seen Dead bassist Phil Lesh just one short week before, my tolerance for the jam was diminished, to say the least. Factor in a saunalike outdoor setting and the City Market's uncanny knack for funneling the entire crowd through a single gate, and the show was off to a lackluster start. But the members of Widespread Panic are professionals, putting on hundreds of road performances every year, and they know the best way to placate restless natives is to give them something familiar. In this case, that song the Blues Brothers made famous for this generation came in handy, and once the crowd caught the Katy there was no looking back. With its smooth style, which fuses the Southern sounds of JJ Cale and the Allmans with a touch of Santana (before he went pop), Widespread Panic played the pied piper perfectly for this batch of wanderlusting deadheads, and it wasn't too hard on the ears of the outsiders, either. Unlike some of its jammin' counterparts (Lesh and friends come to mind), Widespread Panic comes back down to earth occasionally to play some straight-ahead rock, and you don't have to smoke a joint or recognize that "Blight" tease before "Thought Sausage" to dig it, but it doesn't hurt.

After a little delay and some grumbling from the sweaty mob, the second set turned out to be as potent as the first. Ripping off such rockers as "Little Kin" and the aptly titled "Let It Rock," Widespread Panic played with the crowd for the rest of the evening, lulling them to sleep with some percussive jams that surely inspired another drum circle and revving them up with guitar theatrics that had the hipsters in a dull roar before the crescendo. In the end, it wasn't a bad way to spend a sweltering summer evening in downtown Kansas City, even for an outsider.

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