BY ELGIN SMITH
The second night of Widespread Panic's engagement at the Midland Theater definitely started off with more of a well-rounded sound than the first show of the band's two-night stand at the Midland did. The band kicked off last night's first set with "Ain't Life Grand," and I was immediately struck by how it (and the first few numbers) didn't go over the top with rapid-fire guitar solos. Guitarist Jimmy Herring was playing "with" the band, something I felt he elected not to do on Tuesday.
Most of the first set kept the audience cheering, with only one extended jam. "Up All Night" was a crowd favorite, and the people in last nigh'ts crowd -- greater in number than on Tuesday -- let Panic know how they felt.
Herring sounded great on "Little Lilly," showing a melodic side that I hadn't really heard before. The last selection of the first set was a cover of Taj Mahal's blues staple, "She Caught the Katy." This song has been covered by a ton of people, and Panic definitely gave it more of a rock treatment. To my ears, it just seemed like a Skynyrd-ized version of the song, with a faster tempo and not much feeling. While the crowd seemed to get into it, I've gotta say it didn't even come close to the catchy, walking-bass version that Blues Brothers fans are used to.
The second set started off with the standard Widespread Panic sound. "Protein Drink" launched a slew of tunes that brought Herring's aggressive guitar shredding back to the forefront. The band just seemed to keep repeating the same formula, with each over-the-top solo trying to outdo the one before.
Most of the tunes also had a disconnected, cheesy interlude between them, with Herring and Bell playing little guitar runs that went nowhere. "Dark Day Program" actually started out with Sonny Ortiz using a rain stick -- something I figured would be more appropriate for a John Tesh show. Widespread made up for it, though, with a decent cover of Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain." This definitely wasn't a song I would've thought they would do justice, but they surprised me with a solid cover.
Panic ended the second set with "Action Man," a fast rocker that took on a sound similar to Stevie Ray Vaughn's "The House Is Rockin'," thanks to JoJo Hermann's quick piano licks.
Afterward, John Bell thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm over the two nights, and the band showed its appreciation with a two-song encore.
Over three and a half hours after they started -- and after nearly eight hours total over two nights -- Widespread Panic had completed its commitment at the Midland. While I definitely wouldn't place it as one of my best concertgoing experiences, it certainly wasn't the worst.
One thing I'm certain of: I do respect them as performers who give their loyal fans what they want.
Ain't Life Grand
Papa Johnny Road
Up All Night
It Ain't No Use
She Caught The Katy
Protein Drink / Sewing Machine
Casa Del Grillo
Dark Day Program
Encores: Time Waits, Space Wrangler