Reviews

Widespread Panic: 15 June 2011 - The Moody Theater at ACL Live - Austin

Twenty-five years and counting, and Widespread Panic are still mixing in great curve balls with their smoking heaters.

Widespread Panic

Widespread Panic

City: Austin, TX
Venue: The Moody Theater at ACL Live
Date: 2011-06-15

It's a typically sweltering Wednesday night in Austin, but the stylish new Moody Theater at ACL Live provides a needed antidote for the “live music capital of the world”. The swank venue offers indoor relief from the summer heat and great sound, something neither the venerable Stubbs BBQ or Austin Music Hall could provide on both counts. Widespread Panic are out on their 25th anniversary tour, hitting favorite venues both old and new, so there's a festive vibe in the air. The band first played the new venue during SXSW in March and must have liked it quite a bit, because now they're back for a two-night run that's even being webcast.

In a rare coincidence, fellow jamrock titans Phish are also webcasting their show from Atlanta tonight. Why certain die-hard members of each band's fanbase insist on hating on the other band remains a mystery. Both bands share a love for the improvisational adventures pioneered by the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, so fans should remember the Dead's classic line “ain't no time to hate”.

The ACL Live venue is a blessing to Austin. The sound is crystal clear from all three levels, there's not a bad seat in the house and there's even a bar dedicated to Austin's own local Tito's vodka (try it with the local Sweet Leaf sweet tea for an only-in-Austin treat). Beforehand, fans gather across the street at Lamberts, one of Austin's finest BBQ venues, where the crispy wild boar ribs are to die for. They also make a great Old Fashioned, the obvious drink of choice for those seeking to manifest a “Ribs and Whiskey” in the show's set list. The first night received strong marks from local Spreadheads in attendance and now it's time for night two.

“Chainsaw City” is an early highlight, with drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Domingo Ortiz synching in on the reggae-tinged groove. Ace lead guitarist Jimmy Herring flexes his considerable chops during “Little Kin”, and then the band chemistry starts to gel around his liquid runs during the following instrumental, “B & D”. The energy keeps building as the band opens up on “Diner”, for the first big jam of the night. Singer/guitarist John Bell settles into a smooth groove here and Ortiz's percussion gives the song's jangly chords an extra boost. Bassist Dave Schools lays down a thick groove and Herring rips a short but sizzling solo before the second verse, then another fret dazzler on an extended jam section. But then there's another verse, and then an even longer jam where the groove deepens with keyboardist JoJo Hermann adding his signature sonic flavor, and Herring just shreds all over. Now the show is in full flight.

“Party at Your Mama's House” finds the band dipping into one of the perennial crowd pleasers from their classic 1999 album, 'Til the Medicine Takes. The lazy slide guitar and percussion start the tune off like a breezy summer day, before the rest of the band kicks in for one of their tastiest melodic jams. It serves as a perfect prelude to the triumphant rendition of “Ribs and Whiskey” that closes the set in grand style, with a timely nod to Austin's local flavor. The song's slide guitar intro oozes with bluesy Southern flavor, like barbecue sauce dripping off those ribs. Hermann stars again, as he lays down some great piano plunking over the fat groove from Schools while Bell and Herring riff out. The whole crowd shares in the delicious sonic platter.

It's a festive vibe during the set break, with the bars doing a brisk business thanks to one of the hardest partying fanbases in all of music. When the band comes back for the second set, they're all fired up and ready to go as they jump right into an edgy blues jam with “Waitin' for the Bus>Jesus Just Left Chicago”. The ZZ Top classic simmers with bluesy goodness in one of the evening's highlights.

Schools busts the set wide open with his monster low end on “Imitation Leather Shoes”, and this is where Herring really shines. The shred master has been in the band for five years now, but there's still creative tension sometimes as he seeks to fill the shoes of the late great Mikey Houser. Houser played in a more spacious style with not quite so much shred. Herring also brings a much hotter tone, sometimes a bit too searing to the ears of some. But it's on tunes like this where Herring can really cut loose and it fits like a glove. Hermann also lays down a great electric organ solo, again delivering the sonic frequency that helps give Panic their signature sound. It's a trademark smoking Panic jam, the type that causes a legion of fans to follow them around from town to town.

Another occurs during “Rebirtha”, a groovy jam vehicle that takes off on a super funky jam triggered again by Hermann's dynamic keyboard work, again activating the Panic x-factor. Then the band turns on a smooth dime mid-jam into “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”, keeping the groovy bliss flowing. The energy just keeps on surging as the band moves into “You Got Yours,” which opens with a mesmerizing blues simmer before taking off into another great jam, including a left-field turn into a great jam within the jam on Gary Neumann's classic “Cars”. The x-factor really clicks in here with, with Hermann pounding the piano and Herring melting face with his smoking licks. Herring slays again during “Papa's Home”, spurred on by the monster bombs being dropped by Schools.

“Henry Parsons Died” doesn't seem like quite the climactic song called for to end the set, but the band isn't finished yet. A big encore starts off strong with “Dirty Side Down”, the dynamic title track from last year's new album. It's an instant Panic classic, with multiple layers of melodic groovy goodness and spiritually oriented lyrics about making one's way through this topsy turvy world. The band moves seamlessly into a gorgeous teaser jam on Jimi Hendrix's “Third Stone From the Sun”, as the treats just keep coming. Schools and Herring harmonize their riffs on the cosmic classic as an intro into “Pleas”, dipping into the back catalogue to 1993's Everyday for yet another triumphant jam. They ride that through one more beautifully seamless segue into Buffalo Springfield's “Mr. Soul”, rocking out on the '60s classic for all its worth.

Twenty-five years and counting, and Widespread Panic are still mixing in great curve balls with their smoking heaters. It's such diversity that keeps things interesting for both the band and the fans, something that younger bands who hope to stick around as long would be wise to observe.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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