Reviews

Widespread Panic: 5 April 2014 - Los Angeles

The group's deep grasp of Americana and classic rock makes Widespread Panic one of the modern music world’s greatest curators of American music history.

Widespread Panic
City: Los Angeles
Venue: The Orpheum Theater
Date: 2014-04-05

There were two distinct vibes around the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles as Widespread Panic prepared to conclude the West Coast run of their spring tour on the first Saturday in April. One was the relaxed mood of fans getting their drink on at nearby bars, eagerly awaiting the show. The other was the desperate urgency of those with fingers in the air, of which there were many, searching for that elusive extra ticket to the sold out show.

The Georgia-based jamrockers have been giving out free live soundboard streams of all their shows for at least the past year and it certainly hasn't seemed to affect demand. To the contrary, the band’s generosity with their music seems to be causing passion to increase. Casual fans get a chance to hear more of the band’s live magic, while diehards can take in every show if they have the time and inclination. Widespread Panic has always been a band of the people, but more so than ever in 2014 with their populist approach to getting the music to their devoted fans.

Many of those fans (widely known as Spreadheads or Spreadnecks, depending on one’s taste) will travel vast distances or follow the band on tour since Panic has a huge repertoire and is known for its ever-evolving improv jams. At least one fan at the Orpheum came all the way from Alabama, because seeing the band out west is considered a special event. But then there are those who can only catch a show or two, yet can still follow the tour by tuning into the free streams. Many fans may not be able to afford to download soundboards of every show, yet will gladly donate their time to listen to the shows live as they occur. A pregnant soon-to-be single mother in the Midwest might not have the resources to see any shows this year, but she can still get some spiritual sustenance from one of her favorite bands just by tuning in on the Internet.

“I sure could use some WSMFP in my life right now," the young lady messaged right before the Santa Barbara show streamed worldwide 48 hours earlier. The increasingly trendy acronym on social media stands for “Widespread Motherfucking Panic," reflecting a passionate endearment. The band had made their way down the west coast, leaving smoking shows in their wake at each stop before landing in the City of Angels for a two-night stand to close the run.

Opening the show with the triumphant “Tallboy” served notice that the band meant business, getting the show started with a bang. “Climb to Safety” was another perennial favorite that ignited the room, easily one of the most beloved tunes in the repertoire judging by the elation that greets it every time. The tune epitomizes the Panic sound, with an infectious organ line by keyboardist Jo-Jo Hermann, paired with melting melodic leads from lead guitarist Jimmy Herring over an uplifting groove from bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance, and percussionist Domingo Ortiz.

Singer/guitarist John Bell acted as a conductor on the groove train, with some of the band’s most heartfelt lyrics about the relationship we all seek with that special someone : “After all that I've been through, you're the only one that matters / You never left me in the dark here on my own / Feel the water rising, let me be your ladder / Climb to safety / I promise you'll be dry and never be alone."

The crowd sang along on the choruses, and the love in the air was tangible. There are surely some who see such a show as just a big party, and Spreadheads are certainly known as serious party animals. But there’s a special relationship between the band and its fans that transcends the status of a mere rock concert. This is music for adventurous souls that view rock and roll as akin to religion. Come see a show and there will be a vibrational healing for what ails you.

The jam wound down and segued into “Hatfield”, a historical tune about American “rainmaker” Charles Hatfield that references San Diego and Los Angeles and is thereby always on the wishlist at a Southern California show. Schools went to town with some deep flowing high-range bass soloing during the jam that felt like cool rain on a hot day, lifting the audience to another peak.

Nicky Sanders from the Steep Canyon Rangers had guested on fiddle the previous night and returned midway through the first set on the soulful “Time Waits”. This seemed like mere prelude though for “Can’t Get High”, a melodic gem where Sanders’ fiddle added an extra layer of sublime ecstasy to the proceedings. Sanders aided the band in a similar way on a gorgeous reading of Jorma Kaukonen’s “Genesis” that featured a transcendent jam with Sanders and Herring trading hot licks.

Sanders exited there but the band cranked things up with “Cream Puff War”, a rare tune from the Grateful Dead’s first album in 1967 but with an intro that sounded almost more like the Doors’ “LA Woman”. Setbreak followed a hard-rocking "Action Man" and was a festive affair thanks to the Orpheum’s large outdoor smoking section where fans could get some fresh air and mingle in leisurely comfort.

Bell sang of “angels on high” during the second set’s “Christmas Katie”, a relaxed sort of tune that comforts the soul before evolving into a hot jam down the stretch where Herring shredded his axe again. This served as prelude for the monstrous sound of “Chilly Water”, with a heavy groove from Dave Schools that may well have registered on the richter scale as the entire theater seemed to explode in unison. Fans spurted water into the air from their water bottles as is tradition on the classic tune, providing some relief as the Orpheum’s temperature continued to rise on what may have been the peak jam of the night.

But the treats just kept coming as the band welcomed guitarist Neal Casal to the stage for a couple of tunes. Casal’s main gig is with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, but he also plays along with Schools in their new side project Hard Working Americans. Casal is fast becoming a man about town after having guested with Furthur at the LA Greek Theater last fall, and he jumped right into down and dirty Panic rock mode on “Tail Dragger”. Casal is known more for his melodic and nuanced playing, however, and he got the chance to shine on a splendid rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Time Waits for No One”. The band played with what looked like a starry sky behind them, with Herring and Casal weaving their lines together in majestic fashion. Herring increasingly looks like a wisened old wizard and it’s fitting, since his skills in sonic alchemy are those of a true Jedi master.

The highlights kept flowing throughout the second set. J.J. Cale’s “Traveling Light” featured Hermann’s electric piano powering the Panic x-factor for another great jam that soared with polyrhythmic percussion and more smoking lead guitar from Herring. It’s one of those covers that the band owns, with a chemistry that adds up to a whole greater than the sum of the parts. A beautiful “Pilgrims” flipped the script, showing the band’s multi-dimensional sound with an uplifting melodic tune and cathartic flavor. There are few bands in the world who excel equally at major key songs and minor key songs, and Widespread Panic are certainly one of them.

When the band concluded a triple encore with a poignant “May Your Glass Be Filled” and a raucous “Ain’t Life Grand”, there was no doubt this had been a special show. Fans spilled out into the balmy night air afterwards, intoxicated by the performance they’d just witnessed (and maybe a few cocktails). Life seemed quite grand indeed.

Some deluded critics think of Widespread Panic as just a one-trick Southern rock band, but the band's deep grasp of Americana and classic rock makes Panic one of the modern music world’s greatest curators of American music history. With a debut album released in 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should soon be calling the band's name.

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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