Widespread Panic
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
House of Blues

-Tight Jams -

Sold out crowd grooves in close quarters to Widespread Panic's musical explorations through time and space

by Lee Abraham

"Got an extra?" That was the popular question before Wednesday night's Widespread Panic show at the House of Blues. Sold out in advance, a crowd of forty to fifty miracle seekers, pointer fingers extended to the heavens in the universal "I need one" hand sign, milled around the box office area hoping to score. Not too many did. Tickets were scarce, but the lucky few that did come across a ticket were treated to quite a show.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which could just as easily be called the Horny Half Dozen, is a six piece, edgy jazz ensemble that had the sardine can dance floor movin' and groovin' from the first note. In spite of a few early feedback glitches with the sound system, the DDBB kicked out one hot and sweaty jam after another. Anchored by a tuba and baritone sax combo holding down the bass lines with a delirious two tone low register, the other DDBB horns, a cool school trumpet with street smart melodics and a soulful, excitable tenor sax, were out front in the mix, exchanging musical ideas throughout the set.

The non-brass instruments rounded out the Dirty Dozen sound with vigorous, yet oh-so-jazzy drums and the textural dynamics of an understated, sonically rich keyboard. Somewhere between bop and funk, with occasional forays into a little Dixie Land, fusion or R&B, the DDBB put on a well-balanced, fast moving performance. People definitely dug 'em.

Within a few minutes of the DDBB leaving the stage to the uproarious applauds of the Widespread fans packing the venue, a distinctive, tie-dyed electricity crackled in the air. A perfect layout for a WSP show with it's close-to-the-stage balconies and functionally designed, multi-tiered main level, the House of Blues was rocking to the rafters when the Panic boys hit the stage. With all the sound stubs handled during the DDBB set, WSP launched into "Disco," a road tested instrumental that pulsed with a fat, we're-in-no-hurry sort of funky groove. "Papa Legba," a Talking Heads tune that WSP also recorded, took the vibe into a heavier, at times darker space, pushing lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player, JB's gritty impassioned voice with a lush musical tension.

After a wide open mid set that included "All Time Low," a boppin' little number from WSP's soon to be released studio album, "'Til the Medicine Takes," and a mind-bending, percussion driven "Rock," the DDBB joined WSP onstage to finish out the set. Jumping in to the upbeat blues standard, "It's All Over Now," with bass player David Schools on lead vocals the dance party was in full swing. After taking a bit of a breather on a slower blues number, the twist and shout factor got cranked up again, this time dramatically, on a scorching no-holds-barred barrelhouse rock treatment of Professor Longhair's Mardi Gras standard, "Red Beans." Lead by keyboard player Jojo Hermanns on lead vocals, all the players got a chance to rip it up on this one to close the first set.

After an almost too long break, the band returned to the stage, taking a moment to get situated before kicking into the longtime concert favorite, "Holden Oversoul." Again it was Hermanns leading the way with his jazzy piano riffs on this acid soaked space hoedown. Another Widespread gem from days gone by, "Stop and Go," sent the crowd into a bliss-tizzy as wall to wall happy faces got in touch with their inner boogie child.

After several more extended jams, the band cleared the stage for a fairly lengthy percussion solo. A master of tempo, tone and beat, Sonny Ortiz, was sublime. Before long, Todd Nance on drums was joining in and the two raised the energy to feverish tribal right which entrained with the opening riff of "Dyin' Man," another tune from their soon to be released album. The title track from "Ain't Life Grand," which was released in '94 and is WSP's largest selling record to date, closed the second set on a hard rockin' note that left the Widespread faithful howling as the band left the stage.

Giving the din a few moments to reverberate, the Panic boys returned to the stage after a couple minutes of pandemonium for a slow and easy treatment of "Gimme." Once they calmed the crowd down, WSP rolled 'em up good and tight for one final trip through time and space. Stuffing the Guess Who hit from yesteryear, "No Sugar Tonight, New Mother Nature," into their collective musical hookah, Widespread puffed new life into the song. Sonically smoking the classic rock tune into a sing-along fatty that left their Spreadhead faithful red eyed and smiling as the house lights came up.