While listening to Widespread Panic’s most recent album, Dirty Side Down, I was exploring the web to see what the band was up to and found an interesting add-on to their website. Throughout their history the Panic have encouraged fans to record their shows and share them any way they wanted. No restrictions, no demands that they get paid. Like any professional band, Widespread Panic records their own shows from the main sound board and now they are making their own recordings available for purchase.
The band has set up a website where you can buy recordings of their shows. It looks like they have every show they’ve done since 2005 up on the site. There are also selected older shows, package deals that combine several shows performed on successive nights at one venue, multi-CD sets of selected songs from a particular tour, and various other kinds of packages and combinations. The shows and packages are available in MP3 and FLAC for download, or you can buy them on CDs. There is also a CD + MP3 option.
There are hundreds of shows and/or packages and combos available on the site. Unless you want to buy a show you were at or are an obsessive fan fixated on the band who has to have all of their shows, there are too many choices. How do you decide which show to pick when there are hundreds available? There is a recommended shows feature on the site but it looks like it’s fed randomly from a pool of shows and you have no idea why any given show is recommended. There are also fan comments on each show but these are generally useless because they tend to be ecstatic in one way or another.
The band provides a solution to this problem with collections called Driving Songs. Each volume of Driving Songs contains a selection of songs from one tour chosen and mixed by the Front of the House engineer Chris Rabold. There are seven volumes covering tours from summer 2007 to spring 2010. Choosing from seven is a lot easier than choosing from hundreds. I picked Vol. 2 from Fall 2007 mainly because it looked like the largest of the Driving Songs sets – it comes on four CDs – and downloaded it in FLAC format.
Is it any good? Are you kidding? The sound engineer’s pick of tracks from a jam band that makes it’s living based on its live shows? Driving Songs Vol 2 ought to come with a warning label. When Widespread Panic catch fire – and they catch fire on almost every track in the compilation – they can burn your house down if you’re not careful. Singing in key can be a struggle at times and if off-key vocals are a special problem for you, approach with care. There’s no problem with the playing, however, and more often than not Panic tears the place up. Jam bands are infamous for aimless noodling while they try and find someplace to go or something to do but Panic largely avoids this problem on Driving Songs Vol 2. The guitar work is usually intense and focused with structured solos and some mind-blowing interplay. The band is also capable of playing in a variety of styles, not only by playing different types of songs but in the style of guitar playing chosen for a track. For example, the guitar lead on “Machine” sounds like it came straight out of the Frank Zappa Shut Up and Play Yer Guitar songbook. Good stuff.
Widespread Panic are known for the amazing covers they do in their live shows and there is a fine selection on Driving Songs Vol 2. The compilation opens with Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters”. Other covers include Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”. Although it will probably be taken as sacrilege by rabid Mettalica fans, the Panic also do a killer version of “Enter Sandman”. This band has no fear when it comes to taking on anything at all that strikes their fancy and more often than not they pull it off.
If you’re a big fan of Widespread Panic and haven’t yet discovered the area of their website where they sell the recordings of their shows, you’re going to feel like you just died and went to heaven. If you enjoy world-class jam band guitar rave ups Driving Songs Vol 2 is right up your alley. Four CDs of this type of music is too much for me to listen to at one time; it all starts to sound the same after awhile. But the quality across this compilation is so high you can pick it up anywhere, listen as long as you like, and be guaranteed to hear terrific music. I expect it will take awhile to wear Driving Songs Vol 2 out but when we do, I’ll pick up another in the Driving Songs series without any hesitation whatsoever.
“Road to Damascus”
“Werewolves of London”
moe. has reached an enviable place in the music industry. They do what they do, they do it very well, they have a large enough following to keep on making music, they’re not about to set the world on fire and become the next U2, and it sounds like they’re perfectly happy with all of it. The result has been a series of good albums that hold solid appeal for their fanbase and which provide good entry points for new listeners who enjoy the kind of music they play.
What moe. does is play guitar rock. Their origin as a jam band is evident in both the variety of music they play and the high level of musicianship with which they play it. The variety keeps their albums interesting while the musicianship makes them worthwhile.
Sticks and Stones opens with “Cathedral” that has a vocal chorus that sounds so much like the Modern Skirts that I have to believe moe. spent time with the Skirts terrific album Catalogue of Generous Men. Later in the album we get “202” which opens with a descending marimba, rhythm guitar and percussion vamp that sounds straight out of the Frank Zappa catalog. “All Roads Lead to Home” opens with the kind of rhythm guitar riff that Keith Richards regularly produces for the Rolling Stones. Modern Skirts, Frank Zappa, and the Stones represent a pretty wide range of musical influences but moe. handle it all with ease.
In a review of their prior album, Conch, I opined that moe.s weak spot was vocals. Oops. Turns out I was pretty far off base with that one as Sticks and Stones has both strong lead vocals and fine harmony work.
moe. is a highly talented guitar based band who posess open ears and serious skills. They’ve been playing together a long time and have reached a point where they value music over fame. It’s a winning combination and if you like guitar-based rock and haven’t heard them play, give the band a listen. You may find a group you’ll be happy to return to again and again.
The Allman Brothers Band have been playing their brand of Southern rock, blues rock, jam band music for a long time now. They’ve survived personnel changes that would have stopped most other bands dead in their tracks. What other band could have continued after the loss of a guitar player of the magnitude of Duane Allman? They’ve been on top of the world, they’ve crashed and burned and they’ve gotten it back together. Throughout all of this they’ve not only survived, they’ve prospered. Unlike other long-lived bands like, say, The Rolling Stones who have been focusing much more on being rock stars than on the music for several decades, ABB can still be as musically exciting as they were in the beginning.
“Alltel Pavillion” is a 3 CD live recording of the last gig from their tour to promote their studio album “Hittin’ the Note”. The lineup is Gregg Allman (Hammond B-3, piano, vocals), Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (drums), Marc Quinones (Congas, percussion, vocals), Warren Haynes (lead and slide guitars, vocals), Derek Trucks (lead and slide guitars) and Oteil Burbridge (bass). Susan Tedeschi, Karl Denson and Branford Marsalis sit in on selected tracks. They’re not doing anything you haven’t heard them do before but as can happen with this band, they’re doing it very well. Marsalis plays on “Dreams” and “Whipping Post”, two of the three encores that make up disc 3 and his two numbers are among the highlights of the gig. Time and again I’ve heard jazz musicians, who are typically light years beyond most rock musicians in their level of musical knowledge and ability, play rock or funk that is flat and dull. They have chops to burn but not the feel or instinct that can make the simple chord changes and harmonics of rock soar. Marsalis is a happy exception. He burns on both his numbers and he fits well with the band.
Another highlight of the concert is a jam called “Instrumental Illness” that clocks in at just under 40 minutes. It features an extended drum break by Jaimoe and Butch Trucks that is terrific. Few bands feature two drum kits and the opportunity to hear two drummers making music together is a real treat. Many people say they don’t like drum solos. On the one hand, as a drummer I hate to hear this but on the other I understand why they don’t like what they hear. Too many rock drummers substitute technique and/or bombast for musicianship when it comes time to solo. Which means they play fast and loud. The result may be technically difficult but it’s often musically uninteresting. Drumming is about rhythm not speed. Jaimoe and Trucks have been with the band since the beginning and had been playing together for 34 years when this gig was recorded. 34 years! They’re like two bodies with one mind and their interaction on “Instrumental Illness” is like a graduate seminar in drumming. World Class.