Grok My Enthusiasm (35)

By: Colin Dickey
September 7, 2016

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars.

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widepsread panic

About midway through the second set of Widespread Panic’s April 3, 1996 concert in Huntsville, Alabama comes a run of songs — beginning with a cover of Winston Riley’s “Arleen” and ending with another cover, Dr. John’s “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” — that’s some of the best live music ever put to tape. “Arleen” is funky, strange, bolstered by Jojo Herman’s flawless keyboard work, as vocalist John Bell interweaves elements of Van Morrison’s “Satisfied” seamlessly into the mix. After moving into WSP’s own “Vacation” and a short drum solo, the band comes roaring back with an extended, haggard and vicious “I Walk On Guilded Splinters,” a sinister, driving behemoth that stretches over twelve minutes and sets the stage for the final third of the set.

That’s the thing — this bank of songs, as good as it is, is only the second or third most impressive sequence from that night. The second half of the first set, the opening of the second, and the final moments of the night: any of these, taken by themselves, would have been more than enough. WSP’s music has always evoked for me some dust-blasted highway at dusk, the sun scarlet-red, as though the Apocalypse has arrived, and that spring night in Huntsville it sounds as though the End Times really have arrived, and the band is playing their last, given this one final chance to give it all. Even for a band known for their live shows, this one is a standout: the band maintains a feverish intensity over the course of three hours, and by the time you make it to the encore, a delirious, transcendent “Can’t Find My Way Home,” something in you has changed.

Or maybe not. I could spend all day trying to convince you of how good Widespread Panic is, but truth be told I don’t really care to. Widespread Panic is one of those loves I have no interest in sharing with anyone. When you’re young, having your taste validated by your friends is important; finding people you can share these tastes with makes all the difference in the world. For me, at any rate, this is no longer the case, particularly when it comes to music. And that goes double for Widespread Panic.

There is nothing, after all, so debased among hipsters, intellectuals, and other cool kids as a jam band. The Grateful Dead, perhaps, gets a pass for being such an important part of the ’60s zeitgeist, and for having penetrated mainstream culture as much as they did. But the second generation jam bands are an embarrassment of the 1990s, a shitty sideshow in the age of grunge. There is nothing cool about the associated culture. The fashion is bad and not due for an ironic revival anytime soon. There’s no accompanying iconic films or novels that might have mythologized that moment in time. Now that pot is increasingly decriminalized and legalized, hippies don’t even have this to tout.

New wave, disco, metal, opera — all these are defensible. The jam bands of the ’90s are pure detritus.

And yet Widespread Panic endures. They never chased MTV like Blues Traveler or The Spin Doctors, and they never descended into the hermetic idiocy of Phish. Year after year, they go on the road, an uncanny telepathy between them, moving in unison from one song into the next without missing a beat. And through the years, I’ve kept listening.

So much of one’s taste acts as a kind of currency: it wins you street cred and respect, it opens up new doors, new possibilities, it fosters connections and deepens relationships. This is certainly true of a lot of my passions, especially when it comes to books and films. But I’ve deliberately withdrawn my enthusiasm for Widespread Panic from circulation. Like a doomsday prepper’s stash of gold, it exists for me and me alone, hidden from view and kept safe, waiting for the apocalypse.

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GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: Rob Wringham on THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | Gordon Dahlquist on WEEKEND | Joe Alterio on MILLION YEAR PICNIC | Adrienne Crew on LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | Josh Glenn on THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | Alix Lambert on THE SKIES BELONG TO US | Adam McGovern on PENELOPE and CHAVEZ RAVINE | Rob Wringham on THE LYKE WAKE WALK | Mark Kingwell on NORTH STAR SNEAKERS & GWG JEANS | Gordon Dahlquist on FELLINI SATYRICON | Erik Davis on AH! | Devin McKinney on WHISPERING AFRAID | Mimi Lipson on 1973 SEARS ROEBUCK CATALOG | Jessamyn West on MOSS | Josh Glenn on THE SCOUT HOW BOOK | Brian Berger on SLACKER | Alix Lambert on ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS | Chelsey Johnson on MONOTREMES | Devin McKinney on THE BUTCHER COVER | Flourish Klink on ONE DIRECTION | Gordon Dahlquist on FULL METAL JACKET | Allegra Huston on CLOTHESLINE | Jenny Davidson on POWERLIFTING | Evan Narcisse on REZ | Deborah Wassertzug on VEGETARIAN MEATBALLS | Chris Spurgeon on WALLACE AND GROMIT | Mandy Keifetz on BENEFICIAL MICROBES | Annie Nocenti on MARKS ON WALLS | Molly Sauter on THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF | William Nericcio on LAND OF THE LOST | Dan Fox on “VOICE OF GOD” RADIO DJS | Brandi Brown on WIKIPEDIA TALK | Claire Lehmann on THE APPARATUS REVEAL | Alice Boone on COSTUME JEWELRY | Colin Dickey on WIDESPREAD PANIC | Anshuman Iddamsetty on THE FULL BODY PROJECT | John Hilgart on MAKING GRATEFUL DEAD ALBUMS | Rob Wringham on STEVEN UNIVERSE | John Overholt on DECKLE EDGES | James Hannaham on HABIT PATTERNS | Jessamyn West on THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM | Adam McGovern on THE SPACE GIANTS | Brian Berger on MEDIUM COOL | Chris Spurgeon on THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT | Joe Alterio on TABLETOP WARGAMING | Mimi Lipson on TRASH PICKING | Jason Grote on CZECH CINEMA | Roxane Gay on AUTOMATED CAR WASH | Dan Fox on JULIA DAVIS | Amy Thielen on BINGO | Steph Burt on FEIJOA.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Enthusiasms

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