Widespread Panic
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Nautica Stage
July 23

Outside the Nautica Stage last Friday night, the scene was reminiscent of any Grateful Dead experience: exotically dressed, smiling folks meandering about with their index fingers in the air, seeking an extra ticket. There was even a girl seen carrying a coconut.

Formed in the late '80s, Widespread Panic is a prominent AJD (that's After Jerry's Death) band — endless jams, countless solos, and very little in the way of stage presence. From the first note of the evening, Widespread Panic was laying the foundation for an extended solo that would circle the Nautica stands twice before reaching its pinnacle and coming back home. "Travelin' Light" was an all-encompassing jam track of loose and redundant piano keys, a steady, building rhythm foundation, and soloing guitars. Plenty of beer was spilled from straying elbows, exploring hands, and spinning bodies.

Much of Panic's music has a something-old, something-borrowed quality — a bluesy Allman Brothers' guitar sound, a pontificating Dylanesque vocal style, and the Dead's jangly guitar and country and bluegrass influence. Clocking in at well over a half-hour, "Tweezer" stimulated the jiggling Panic fans. After one run through the basic chorus and refrain, the band took a journey that included a potent piano/sax jam and a ten-minute-plus bongo solo, and eventually landed safely near Santanaland. The overblown playing was a bit tedious and could have been just as propelling at half the length.

Other tracks included the upbeat "Holden Oversoul," the grandiose "Tall Boy," and the encore jam "Coconut" (explaining the woman seen earlier). For the inexperienced Panic fan, the band's seamless segues and song jumping (a cover of the Talking Heads' "Papa Legba" came out of nowhere) may have been hard to follow. Like the Dead, Widespread Panic is an acquired taste. But if you're familiar with the wine, it goes down nice and smooth.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band began the evening with an improvisational, imprecise jazz style that fit comfortably with Widespread Panic's granola motif. Using off-key brassy notes and interesting rhythms, the New Orleans horn-based group even inspired a few barefoot dancers. — John Benson

Lyle Lovett
Keb' Mo'
Cain Park

July 24

Just when you thought the last endless summer of our century was blowing past you like a Bartolo Colon heater, Lyle Lovett and His Large Band rolled into town and put a stamp of significance on everyone's calendar.

It was another exceptionally dignified performance by one of the world's top troubadours. If only the Cain Park beverage lines moved as fast as the first ten songs. Lovett punched through a series of ambling twang and smoky blues with deft acceleration. "Black and Blue" swayed with a crisp swagger, and "Stand by Your Man" was impossibly entertaining. Lovett poured out nearly 28 songs from his dusty songbook, several of which are found on Step Into This House, which pays tribute to Texas songwriters Townes Van Zandt and Walter Hyatt.

In a memorable sequence of covers, Van Zandt's "Lungs" preceded the traditional Hyatt cut "Teach Me About Love," which was followed by Robert Earl Keen's "Rollin' By." The last spoke of "standing alone at the last filling station," and damn if you couldn't almost feel it.

The Large Band maxed out at seventeen members and displayed no discernible weaknesses. The four-piece horn section was crack, as were the four vocalists who rode shotgun through many of the gospel and R&B cuts. During "What Do You Do?" Francine Reed brought the first standing ovation of the set with her barrelhouse vocals.

As if to answer his critics who claim he has abandoned hellhound blues for contemporary grooves, Keb' Mo's first line was, "Remember if you can, cotton picked by hand." True, his sound has gotten a little soft, but his lyrics still have sharp edges. He often mixed blues and blues lite, as in "Soon as I Get Paid," where the rollicking roadster blues gave way to a slick bridge. It's not the most emotional material of his career, but the Cain Park crowd loved it. — Tim Piai

Agora Theatre
July 26

The Scene reviewer's enchanted evening begins in the bathroom. Standing at a urinal, with two urinals to his left. In the first: a blond boy, maybe one-quarter the reviewer's size. The reviewer frowns. Looks over the boy's head to the far urinal: the boy's father.

"At's m' son," says the father. "Eight years old. Birthday today. Wants to see Ween."

The reviewer considers this. The boy walks away. The father continues: "No, actually, he's my bodyguard. Black belt in tae kwon do."

The boy assumes a karate stance and flails his fists wildly. The reviewer walks out, bewildered. "Kid's gonna have himself a hell of a birthday party," he thinks, eyeing up the inexplicably large crowd. An idle Monday, Tribe's in town, Woodstock burnout, and still the Agora is packed when the Ween boys hit the stage, thankfully eschewing the usual bothersome opening act. The reviewer confers with his neighbor. "Okay, so that's "Dean Ween,' that's "Gene Ween,' and that could very well be "Mean Ween.' Got it."

Onstage, the first words uttered: "Hello, Cleveland." Soon thereafter: "Shitbath."

Ween launches into "The Golden Eel." The reviewer notes the arena rock touches: the '80s guitar riffs (Eddie Van Ween?), the overzealous smoke machine, the multi-fake ending, cymbal-crashing, guitar-shredding buildup to conclude the first song. "Jesus, maybe that's it," thinks the reviewer.

Nope. Three hours later and he's scrambling to absorb it all. The surf-punk tunes, the smooth jazz tunes, the jam-oriented, guitar-slingin' tunes, the faux death metal tunes (boy, did the crowd enjoy "You Fucked Up"), the ale-hoisting pirate sing-along tunes, and finally, the Spanish revenge ballad ominously titled "Buenos Tardes Amigo." And that's leaving out the cornball country tunes, oozing Nashville smarm while brandishing song titles like "AIDS/HIV" and "Piss Up a Rope," and lyrics like "Up shit creek with a turd for a paddle."

Lengthy pauses between songs to facilitate the passing of the Jack Daniel's and the hoisting of the "Kill Whitey" sign. Two hours in, the reviewer's feet begin shuffling involuntarily. The crowd's feet are not. Screamin' along to every word, they are. The reviewer shakes his head in amazement. He doesn't quite get it, and apparently, no one cares.

He turns around and sees the eight-year-old boy, sitting on his father's shoulders, fists pumping. The boy sings along: "Let me lick yo' puss-ay!!!"

Happy birthday, kid. — Rob Harvilla

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