Widespread Panic has built its reputation on the strength of its concert performances. It’s no surprise, then, that the band does well selling quality recordings of concerts, either from downloadable soundboard recordings available as early as the night of the show through their website, via the band’s archival recordings of early performances, or from featured live releases such as the recently released Live in the Classic City II. The two-disc set marks the 10th anniversary of a three-night stand that took place in the band’s hometown of Athens, GA., April 1-3, 2000, at the Classic Center Theater.
Though the band freely allows fans to record shows, over this three-night run they disallowed tappers and released the recordings as a live release. This second volume then, brings the setlist of the weekend closer to complete, though several covers are omitted for legal and financial reasons. For a diehard Panic loyalist, this collection will be a must-have. First and foremost, it’s another live recording with the late guitarist Michael (Mikey) Houser. Many guests join the band throughout the weekend, and this disc captures more of those rare collaborations. It also captures the band’s sound in transition, from its ‘90s era acoustic rock sound (Houser was originally an acoustic guitarist) to a much harder, dual electric guitar-driven, rock sound, which the band mines to this day with Jimmy Herring on lead electric.
After a blazing, stand alone “Travelin’ Light” (which closed the second set of the third night, pre-encore) opens the first disc, there are six songs in a row from the first set of the second night. Hardcore fans will be pleased to hear this performance for the first time, especially the smooth segue from the wailing instrumental “Machine” into the more soulful, organ-drenched classic Widespread Panic song “Barstools and Dreamers”. It features local legend Dr. Arvin Scott joining Sunny Ortiz on percussion. The real gem of this whole collection, however, is the aching, mournful take on “This Part of Town”, sung in a somber tone by the late Houser. In and of itself it makes this collection a must purchase for long-time fans. The band’s producer and collaborator, Athens-based John Keane, contributes howling steel guitar, which adds to the solemn tone. The rollicking “Imitation Leather Shoes” closes out the set and the first disc.
The second disc is put together in a much more haphazard, hodgepodge manner. The instrumental sound check “Disco” brought a huge cheer from the crowd on the third night as an opener, but then, disappointingly, it fades out on this recording as the band segues into an omitted cover. Another Panic classic, “Rebirtha” follows, with Scott again on percussion and Georgia guitarist Wade Hester joining the band. On his solo, he sounds as though he’s been playing with the quintet for years. Jo Jo Herman’s “Greta” moves seamlessly into the first-ever performance of the rarely played “E on a G”, a fine addition to any collector’s library. Yet it too fades out, as another segue rolls into a cover. Drummer Todd Nance sings lead on “You’ll Be Fine”, a duet made all the better by the graceful and lovely backing vocals of Anne Richmond Boston. Live in the Classic City II closes with the band joined by Daniel Hutchens and Eric Carter of the severely underappreciated Athens-based rock band Bloodkin, with whom Widespread Panic shared an early influential bond. They play two Bloodkin songs, “Success Yourself” and “End of the Show.”
While it would be preferable to have downloadable copies of all three nights as entire, uninterrupted performances, the two-disc collection Live In The Classic City II makes a fine addition to any Spreadhead’s archives.
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