This was my third Panic show since my enlightenment in April of 1993 by Mike, who worked at Sound Exchange in Tampa. On a lazy Sunday, as I was pawing through the racks, he handed me “Lawn Boy” by Phish and “Everyday” by Widespread Panic. Nothing has been the same since.
The first two Panic encounters were at the Ritz Theater in Ybor City (09.12.93 & 09.26.94), as was my first Phish show (08.02.93). Back then, I thought 9:00 PM meant the show started then, not doors at 9:00 and the show cranking up about 10:30 or so!
Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg was different, however. Shows generally started at 8 and had to be done by midnight, period. It was a courtyard surrounded by buildings with decent acoustics and an unforgiving concrete floor. I’ve been there many times since, but my first two were both Panic (also 10.12.95).
And these were the only four Mike Houser shows I saw where he was standing. I believe he sat down on the spring ’96 Sit and Ski tour and never played standing up again starting in 1997. He certainly made it work. Panic fans will argue about Mikey vs. Jimmy Herring (nobody argues about GMac, but I liked him, for what it’s worth). There was just something about Mikey. That “lingering lead.” There are better guitar players, but his sound and style were unmistakable and inimitable. He was, after all, Panic!
If I had not been convinced of that with the two Ritz shows, it only took the opening medley of this show to make it crystal clear. The guy announcing them said, “Good evenin’, St. Pete! How y’all doin’ out there?” [mild crowd response] “They were a lot louder in Orlando last night. C’mon folks!” [much louder roar] “All the way from Athens, G-A, it’s Capricorn recording artists WIDE… SPREAD… PANIC!”
And then it started. “Sleepy Monkey.” What an intriguing song, with Mikey’s guitar drawing you right in on top of the percussion foundation laid down by Sunny Ortiz and Todd Nance. I can still hear every note (and fortunately, I have it on disk as well). What then unfolded was “Sleepy Monkey > Chilly Water > Junior > Chilly Water.” The band had everybody’s attention now. The first set included two songs that are great with horns, but they made both of them stand up proper without horn accompaniment: “Makes Sense to Me” and “Weight of the World,” carried by John Bell’s strong, growling vocals. Also in there was a spirited “1 x 1,” which JoJo Hermann romped through. It was a glorious first set.
At set break, I ran into a taper. Talk about falling down a wormhole! We started talking about the Dead show at Tampa Stadium (04.07.95, which turned out to be the last one). He had that, and the Panic show from the night before, and lots of other stuff. Soon, I would be buried in cassettes of shows.
The second set was just ridiculous. “Let’s Get Down to Business > Hatfield > Porch Song > Rebirtha > Rock.” I loved the Ritz shows, but this was blowing my mind! I really enjoyed JB’s storytelling in “Hatfield.” Dave Schools was a sight to behold, stage left, hair blown by his fan, producing unbelievable sounds. And I think this was where I fell in love with Todd’s drumming. There are better drummers, but I have never seen a drummer do more for his band than Todd does for Panic. And Sunny had more toys than I could count.
After a minute break, they broke into “Can’t Get High.” It isn’t my favorite tune, but it was going interesting places, when it suddenly launched into “Machine.” In later years, “Machine” usually preceded “Barstools and Dreamers,” but not this night. Instead, it led into J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light.” (Neither of the Ritz shows lists “Machine” before “T. Light,” but I am pretty sure it was played at both.)
I love JB’s vocal rendition on “Travelin’ Light,” and Mikey’s guitar was incredible. How he found another gear to blister “Space Wrangler” I will never know. And Todd blew me away. WSMFP!
It was clear they were having a blast with “Red Beans” for the encore, JoJo again in the driver’s seat. I took Cloud 9 home.
The setlist, courtesy of Everyday Companion (everydaycompanion.com):
1: Sleepy Monkey > Chilly Water > Junior > Chilly Water, Wondering, Makes Sense To Me, 1 x 1, Jack, Weight Of The World
2: Let’s Get Down To Business > Hatfield > Porch Song > Rebirtha > Rock, Can’t Get High > Machine > Travelin’ Light, Space Wrangler
E: Red Beans
[Slow ‘Porch Song’]