Driving down to Atlanta for the Tabernacle Wood Tour shows, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d seen the tour opener in Silver Spring and had some reservations. However, I shared that show with my 17 year old nephew, the child that likely will be the closest thing I ever experience to one of my one. He was hooked. And it was incredibly special to witness and share that with him. Something that has been so instrumental in my life, professionally, personally and even emotionally, this band has served as the soundtrack to a large portion of my life as I’m sure it has for any of you reading this.
I’ve done the drive from Atlanta to Asheville literally hundreds of times. I could do it in my sleep. The city of Atlanta is another home town for me. I lived there for 7 years and spent the formative days of my youth in that town. It never fails that when I return, it feels like I never left.
As I commenced my drive, I did what most people will do; make a few phone calls to arrange logistical details, etc. It also turns out that I was having some issues with the Volvo that require ed me to not turn the car off if I wanted to arrive in the ATL. Reassured by my trusty comrade, Robert Kwon, that I could indeed fill my car up while it’s running, I put on some tunes.
I had loaned the car out to an old friend, Bobby Miller the band’s former insurance agent, and he left a disc in my stereo that proved to be quite prescient about the weekend. 11/13/2001…a show that highlights the wonderful aspects of this band and actually showcases Michael Houser in a most inspiring manner. The old chicken skin happened all the way down as I spun the first set of this delectable show, somewhat bummed that the raucous, raging remembrances of the plugged in six headed monster wouldn't be rearing it's head for this run. Nonetheless, a bit of sentimentality had set in that remained throughout the weekend.
I arrived, hurriedly dropped my gear off in my buddy’s place and walked across Centennial Park to the Tabernacle…an old church…for Georgia Panic. I walked in…solo…not altogether uncommon but usually if that’s the case, I’m working the show. Not tonight.
I settled in with James Calemine and we adjourned to the bar to partake in a libation, my first of the night after my hustle to the show. Standing in line, we encounter Mr. Horace Moore and the three of us shared in a most surreal experience…
As we’re waiting and chatting, a silence passed between the three of us (me the least of these 3 grizzled vets but 18 years of seeing these guys and 12 working shows has given me a bit of credit). We had each, in our own moment caught sight of a fella who resembled the late Garrie Vereen…so much so that it caused us to pause…audibly. We exchanged glances as if to say “did you see that,” which we all did. Taking note of the moment, we went back to our seats and were greeted with the start of the show….
"Heaven". Now…you tell me. That residue of Garo remained on James, Horace, and I and "Heaven" is played. What’s that saying about life imitating art? Yes…now onto talking about music and not just life...some may say, what’s the difference?
As the show began, the energy in the room struck me as much as anything else. The palpable buzz between fan and band was made ever more accessible by the setting, an old church, small venue, and acoustic. The audience was being played to as much as played with. We all know that folks will be singing during a show. But, this time you could hear it. All of it. And the fans knew it…and felt it. And thrived on it. The band did as well. "Heaven" has a nice swell at the right place and that set the tone for the evening. The audience was very much a part of this experience and remained so for the balance of the weekend, which to me, made it that much more special…Georgia Panic.
"Send Your Mind"…an old favorite, classic Panic even if it is a Van Morrison cover. This got the band in a nice groove and moved nicely into "Surprise". The chops were evident and they strung out the jam nicely and melted into the first true sing along of the night, “I’m Not Alone.” As the tapes demonstrate, the fan echo was intense on this one. As you’re there experiencing this surge of voices, it’s nothing I’ve ever felt at a Panic show. It seemed like every time it happened it just built on the last time…the songs came more alive with this latent movement that became ever more prevalent as the weekend took shape.
"Weak Brain" showcased the transformed rock chops. Nice pocket rhythms and sparse playing that focused the musicians on the songs and not the playing…as in, the song became more of the boss, binding the players collectively. "Pieces" is always beautiful and kept me in the haze of the night’s thematic renderings, finding their origins in my journey and continuing throughout…heaven, spirit moves in all things, etc…And then, the daddy of them all comes out, the Colonel. He was preceded by a chair and a black umbrella and he makes his way to the stage as well as a long and drawn out chorus of “bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce,” ringing throughout the venue. As he’s signing "Fixin' To Die" , he looks over to JB as if to say that Mr. Bell should croon a verse, to which JB chuckles and says “not a chance, yer doin it all.” The audience gave the Colonel such a warm and glorious response. Truly touching tribute.
Jojo stepped out in a big way on "Blackout" that seemed to be foreshadowing for the weekend. As acoustic instruments go, upright pianos were some of the first and the loudest. He took note and blistered a solo. Not to be missed was the debut of JB’s shiny dobro and a nice slide solo. Perhaps not his best but many more to come. "Travelin' Light" ends the set as it started my drive to ATL. Love it when that happens….this version was new. I’m a huge fan of the Soldano crunch in "Travelin Light" and Todd and Mikey’s build during the breaks. This was standard but enhanced by the audience once again. Good set. And warm welcoming audience and show. Already surpassing my expectations.
The venue was buzzing during the break. Nothing but smiles and a lot of very excited folks. After all, when’s the last time you saw an entirely acoustic panic show? Me neither.
2nd set was an Athens tribute set to start. "Let’s Get Down to Business", about a half step slower than usual, truer to form to how the late Vic Chestnutt used to do it. And again the audience chorus, another full member of the band. I don’t want to say that it’s just a sing along…it was so much more than that. As if the years, the music, and the smiles of the fans feeling as if they’re contributing…it’s spine tingling at times. My bias knows no bounds in the following two raucous tributes to my favorite band, Bloodkin. "Who Do You Belong" to got the JB growl goin in full force and raged on into "Henry Parsons", much to the delight of the audience who not only sang but
Jumped around much like the debutantes in the front row.
I’m going out on a limb and gonna say that there were a lot of audience members happy to hear the slowed down "Visiting Day". Altho, it took a lot of people a few minutes to get it. But, it made for another nice bit of audience participation. Jimmy does some cool jazz power chords over the verse that I particularly enjoyed.
"Use Me>Diner>Ribz"…okay, now you’re talkin. This was Widespread Panic at their finest. Channeling all the energy of the room, the tunes, and themselves into this suite of music. Splendid, splendid, splendid.
I’ve always been a big fan of “Nobody’s Loss” and we got a dandy. This is one of those songs written for this sort of tour. Jojo heavy and focused on the piece of music and lyrics with a more subtle kind of energy. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this run was the subtlety, embodied by songs like “Nobody’s Loss” and “Fishin.” This version of “Nobody’s Loss” featured the debut of JB’s new toy, the ban’tar or git’jo; a banjo body and strings over a guitar next and headstock, six strings instead of 4. I gotta give it to the man for being clever and not having to learn new chords. The instrument offers a nice textural undertone to the tunes. Clever…some may say it’s cheating…some may…
Blues started on acoustic instruments so "Smokestack Lightnin'" works nicely in this format as well. As it was the first panic song I heard live, so I’ve got a sentimental bend to it . Also features a lot of JB growl so if that’s yer thing, get on this train. A’oooo, ooo. I particularly enjoy jojo’s ivory ticklin on this version as well.
Seems jojo rode that warm up into a nice "Big Wooly" which bled straight into "North". I was expecting a lot more crowd rowdiness during the line that mentions Mexico, but didn’t get it. Oh well.
So, that’s my take on the Tabernacle run. I could review each show as carefully, but I think you can extrapolate on this one for now. The entire weekend was special because we were all a part of the show. It was the band moving as one, in a way I’d not often seen or heard since Mikey died. They were in their hometown of sorts and the state of Georgia welcomed them with open arms and played a strong role in all three shows.