Aragon - Chicago
May 9, 1997
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 1997, Volume 4, #7
Written by John Metzger
About a week prior to Widespread Panic's May 9 performance at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, an additional block of tickets was put on sale. This was a huge mistake. I have seen many sold-out shows at the Aragon, but never has it been this crowded. I don't know what the venue management and TicketMaster were thinking, but it certainly was not about the comfort of the people inside.
At the Aragon, we generally hang out about halfway between the back of the venue and the stage. This gives us a reasonable view of the band without feeling quite as boxed in as you do in the front row. This time around, we were so crowded that we finally moved to the back where we couldn't see or hardly hear but could get some fresh air and get away from being kicked, pushed, punched, elbowed, and just generally run over by some rather obnoxious folks. These people were guzzling beer as if Prohibition would resume tomorrow. Although they were the minority, they were so rude and obnoxious that they bothered the majority. It was really a sad experience, and I am quite happy to be getting away from the Aragon for awhile.
Musically, from what I was able to enjoy, Widespread Panic's performance was incredible. As a nice treat, David Blackmon was along for the ride and added his magnificent fiddle playing to the mix. The show started off with Weight of the World and Glory, both of which were a little rough around the edges. But the band pulled it together, and whipped up an energetic and somewhat frenzied version of Little Kin. Ain't No Use was tightly played, but it was during the ensuing jam that everything broke loose. This was the high point of the night for me, despite several other wonderful jams throughout the evening. This particular jam spiraled, swirled, and danced as if to conjure up the creature hinted at by the percussive rattlesnake sounds from Domingo Ortiz. Then a sudden peace and calm came through the music as bird sounds floated through the speakers. The band settled in for a beautiful version of Gradle which they had been hinting at throughout the jam.
David Blackmon took the stage for the final three songs of the set. First up was a delicately handled Raise the Roof which allowed Blackmon to find his place. The conclusion was the crowd-pleasing pairing of C Brown and Travelin' Light. John Bell is a strong vocalist, and on C Brown he really outdid himself!
As the lights went down for the second set, there was a sudden influx of people, pushing and shoving in a rather out-of-control fashion. Sadly, I missed a majority of Holden Oversoul despite the fact that I was still maintaining the space I had been occupying since an hour before show time. The jam leading out of Holden Oversoul hinted at the Grateful Dead's The Other One, and the band methodically grooved its way into Walkin' (For Your Love). Keyboardist John Hermann took over the vocals for Dying Man, which was the weakest point of the show.
As David Blackmon made his way back to join the band on Arlene, the audience's pushing and shoving resumed. Arlene hinted and then turned into Aunt Avis which wound its way into a very cool jam that contained the basic theme of The Who's Eminence Front. A raucous Henry Parson's Died drifted off into a fiery drum solo. As the band returned sans Blackmon, Space Wrangler appeared out of nowhere. This version was particularly magical, having crept out of the drum solo.
Unfortunately, the audience's pushing and shoving resumed once again, and during the set-closing Tall Boy, we were forced to head out in search of a more comfortable location. I was in awe of how crowded it was, and how drunk some people were. There were actually quite a few people who had found their way to the back of the venue in hopes of enjoying the show with minimal distractions.
Though the encores were well-played, they were fairly routine and expected given the presence of David Blackmon. Driving Song flowed into a roaring Orange Blossom Special and returned in a spacey (and difficult to hear in our new location) version before concluding. Ain't Life Grand closed out the show. We raced out of the venue to escape the parking lot madness, thankful that we were free of the Aragon for the near future.
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