Gateway Panic

A while back we did a ‘Getting Dead’ post.  I got a TON of great feedback, and hopefully gained some Dead fans.  The next logical choice would be to cover another one of my favorite bands: Widespread Panic.  For this task, I reached out to friend and Panic guru Tyler Caswell.  Sit back and enjoy, folks:

I was recently asked to do a “gateway post” for Widespread Panic, which I interpreted as “I’ve never listened to any Widespread Panic, what’s the best way to get started?” This is a good question because if you looked at Panic’s discography today, you would see 26 albums over roughly 30 years. So where to begin?

Short answer: do not jump into random live shows and do not start with anything post-Micheal Houser era (Panic’s founding guitarist/songwriter who passed away in August 2002).

So, the two studio albums that are perhaps most easy on the ears to a first time listener: (1) Ain’t Life Grand (their 4th studio album, released in Sept. 1994) and (2) ‘Til the Medicine Takes (their 6th studio album, released in July 1999). Both are great albums with great songs – start to finish. And by that time, Panic had really “found their sound” and was in full stride working with (producer) John Keane.

Editor’s Note:  I completely agree with Tyler here.  The Mikey/Todd WSP is the best WSP.  It’s foundational to everything that is good about the band, and ultimately when their unique, innovative sound was developed.  You have to start with the old stuff.  

The third album that deserves mentioning is “Light Fuse, Get Away” (their first live album, record in 1997, released in April 1998). While I do think Panic’s studio albums are underrated and too often overlooked (due to their reputation as a great live band), let’s be honest: they are a live band and this live album is truly a classic in every sense. If you don’t like “Light Fuse, Get Away”, you probably aren’t going to love Widespread Panic.

Quick note: within the 3 albums recommenced above, no song is repeated twice. So you are taking in 42 different songs, many of which are Panic staples and major fan favorites at shows today.

So start with those 3 albums.

If you like what you hear, you can then go back and listen to the first 3 studio albums where you will hear countless good songs that maybe weren’t as polished or exciting as they later became in concert.

And if you want more live awesome-ness, the next step is definitely “Live in the Classic City” (recorded in 2000. Panic in perhaps their peak years) Lastly, if you find yourself full-on hooked, start exploring Everyday Companion and panicstream.com for a library of their live shows (beware, sound quality will vary greatly).

Like any band that has lasted this long, Widespread Panic has had their ups and downs over the years. Mikey Houser remains painfully missed, but Jimmy Herring has been a godsend who has done a fantastic job as the lead guitarist and today “the boys” sound as good as ever!

Let’s hear it, folks.

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10 Comments

  1. Dan
    05/06/2020 / 9:10 AM

    Would you consider doing another playlist? Or top 10 songs to start?

    • JRS
      Author
      05/08/2020 / 12:29 PM

      Yeah – that’s not a bad idea. Any takers out there?

  2. SFM
    05/06/2020 / 12:13 PM

    I discovered Panic my last year of high school (02′) so right as the Mikey Era was ending. Driving Song was the one that got me hooked, but virtually everything helped reel me in. I’m probably the odd one out on this, but always enjoyed Ball as an album. Maybe because it was the first chance I had to buy a new release even though it came out right on the heals of Mikey’s passing. It was also the summer after my freshman year of college, which is probably the zenith in most young men’s leisure time so pretty rosy memories all around. One thing I love about bands like this though is even after pressing on, all of their releases contain 1 or 2 new additions that can be put into heavy rotation on tour and won’t take away from older songs. Guys approaching 60 may not have another Aint Life Grand of Space Wrangler worth of album, they given so much already, but still very much looking forward to this next release.

    • DWFT
      05/06/2020 / 4:29 PM

      Ball is a great album! Traveling Man, Fishing, Papa Johnny Road, Thin Air… A lot of good songs.

  3. SB
    05/06/2020 / 12:48 PM

    the Huntsville 1996 show is a great “next step” after Light Fuse and Classic City.
    As far as albums go, I personally think Space Wrangler is probably their best collection of songs, though the production doesn’t quite capture how good those songs can be.

  4. Poor Man
    05/06/2020 / 7:58 PM

    Seeing that composite photo immediately triggers so many smells. Hung right outside my room at the house.

  5. Gent Myers
    05/06/2020 / 8:23 PM

    My older brother came back from college when I was 14 talking about this jam band that started in Athens and would play the same song for 15 minutes. So naturally I found the longest song available on limewire at the time which was a 10 minute Conrad the Caterpillar from a Myrtle Beach show. The next was an all-cover “Jackass-o-lantern” Halloween show album where the Nelly “Hot in Here” was an automatic staple. Any Love Tractor slaps. Till the Medicine Takes is just a wave of nostalgia from summer semester in Athens. Sharon is also an all-time song. “The Same rowdy crowd that was here last night is back again” will give the most devout Dave Matthews fan goosebumps.

  6. Taylor Johnson
    05/06/2020 / 9:06 PM

    I’m very lucky to have personally attended over 100 Panic Shows with over 90 of those being before Houser passed. Light Fuse Get Away is the absolute best sounding live album ever recorded in my opinion and North Fulton County high school students I coach love that album. As a new fan that’s where you start.

    After Mikey passed it took me 16 years to fully appreciate Jimmy Herring era Panic. The last two NYE shows at the Fox are simply stunning I mean top tier Panic Shows and this is coming from someone that attended every NOLA show from 1998-2001. Oak Mountain 1998-2002. NYE 1998-2001. Plus all 3 Live In the Classic City Shows in person.

    While my favorite studio album is Everyday and live is obviously LFGA the author has a point. Start with Ain’t Life Grand. Also if you need a show message me. I’ve got over 1 terabyte of Panic Soundboards in my personal cloud that I can share. It’s much better sounding than anything on Panic Stream that I promise you.

  7. JSP
    05/06/2020 / 10:05 PM

    Agree with the post but lets add Everyday to the listening party and, if you like that, go find the Valdosta Armory show. Its fantastic music that I love to this day. As a side, I never found out what that kidney shaped bow is on the wall either, Mikey. That live album is what hooked me many years before the band released it. I had it on three tapes from a taper who I mailed the blank tapes to. Love Panic all these years later. RIP Mikey.

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