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Widespread Panic - Live from Austin, Texas, 31/10/2000

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 22 / 5 / 2009

Widespread Panic - Live from Austin, Texas, 31/10/2000


Widepread Panic's latest DVD, which is being released as part of the 'Austin, Texas' series, was recorded in 2000 and was one of the last shows of member Michael Houser, who died less than two years later of pancreatic cancer. Malcolm Carter finds it a poignant, but timely reminder of a lost talent

I didn’t ever think that I’d write that a DVD of a live performance by Athens, Georgia’s Widespread Panic would be tinged with sadness. This show, which was recorded on 31st October 2000, is the first of the many Widespread Panic DVDs that has made it into my player. It is, therefore, the only visual reminder that I have of original member Michael Houser who died of pancreatic cancer on 10th August 2002, less than two years after this performance was captured as part of the ‘Austin City Limits’ television show. But like any Widespread Panic show the audience make no bones that they are there to enjoy the event and the band as usual pull out all the stops to make sure no one goes away disappointed. As a memento of just how great a guitarist Houser was this show is perfect. As soon as the second song, ‘Ain’t Life Grand’, begins, a seated Houser displays his remarkable talents and proves that he was one of his generation’s greatest guitarists. It’s always said that Widespread Panic never play the same show (or same song) the same way twice. Never having seen the band live I can’t confirm that, but on this showing they certainly add something to the songs that doesn’t shine through on their studio recordings. Having the opportunity to see the band in a live setting certainly improves on the seven or so official live albums the band has released so far. It’s been said many times before and I’m certain I won’t be the last to say it here, but I can’t help but be reminded of the Grateful Dead when I see this show or hear any live album by Widespread Panic. All the band members -and on this show the group consisted of what many would argue is the classic line-up of Houser, John Bell ( vocals, guitar), David Schools (bass, vocals), John Hermann (keyboards, vocals), Todd Nance (drums) and Domingo Ortiz (percussion)- display their talents well with each musician playing superbly. The show opens with the Vic Chesnutt-penned, ‘Let’s Get Down To Business’, which was first heard on the collaboration that Chesnutt did with Widespread Panic under the name of Brute which was titled ‘Nine High A Pallet’ ; the album was current when the show was recorded. For those who haven’t heard John Bell speak before his “Good evening ladies and gentlemen” just before the band launch into the song, it will no doubt come as a bit of a surprise to hear that the singer has such a gruff, raspy voice as when he sings there is little to indicate that. Proof that the guy can sing at least. The tour-de-force of this show must be ‘Driving Song/Surprise Valley/Driving Song’, where the band shows just why they are regarded as one of the best live acts around when it comes to extended jams. It’s a joy to see the band and crowd as one, the audience are as obviously into the music being created as the musicians are. With all the band members giving their best performance of the night special mention must still be made of the guitar playing of both Houser and Bell. Houser in particular again shines on this medley. It’s over fourteen minutes of classic Widespread Panic, the reason why the band is so loved and worth the price of the DVD alone. The song segues nicely into a version of J.J. Cale’s ‘Travelin’ Light’. With their usual brilliant picture quality and sound produced in 5.1 surround this is another fine addition to New West Records ever-growing ‘Live From Austin Tx’ series and ranks up there with the best they have issued so far. This show comes very highly recommended; I have to confess that I’d almost forgotten what a major force Widespread Panic is.

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