By James Calemine

“Jack was really a jester
Who held his one good eye on the queen…”

By December 2000—when Widespread Panic  played at the Southern Illinois University Arena—they sounded like a finely tuned rock and roll locomotive. This Carbondale show counts as the first release in Panic’s Archive Series. A 3-CD package, this show sounds flawless—state of the art…

Panic’s versatile live repertory creates endless opportunities for an evening’s set list. Known for a vast catalogue of original and cover material, the group is capable of never repeating songs for weeks, months or even years. Their musical foundation always revolved around songwriting, storytelling and incorporating elements of America’s oldest musical traditions into their own mode of operandi. They built quite an arsenal by the time they played this show on December 1, 2000.

“Evening Carbondale,” JB says in his roadwise-gravel toned voice before they launch into “Let’s Get Down To Business”, the Vic Chesnutt song. “Jack” sounds great, and the Robert Johnson-ala Stones cover of “Stop Breaking Down” proves how far Panic reached into the Great American Songbook.

“Party At Your Mama’s House” never sounded so good. This song personifies Panic’s musical dexterity. A song like this demonstrates Panic’s ability to comfortably utilize elements of blues, jazz and rock for their own streamlined sound. Disc One closes with a muscular “Impossible”, Jorma Kaukonen’s “Genesis” and “Give”.

Disc Two begins with the venerable “One Arm Steve”—a real hometown character the older Athens folk know. A frisky version of Neil Young’s “Walk On” brings a grin. “Thought Sausage” explores a lowdown funk. “Airplane” always fits nice in any sequence in an evening’s performance. A rendition of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” lives up to the original version, and then some.

Todd Nance and Sonny Ortiz flex percussive expertise on “Drums” and Mr. Schools comes in on thundering bass for the start of Disc Three. George Clinton’s “Maggot Brain” preserves the incandescent talent and musical memories of the late great Michael Houser. The band returns to their reservoir of original material playing “Chilly Water” as well as “Papa’s Home”.

“Ain’t Life Grand”, perhaps one of Panic’s finest compositions, reiterates the group’s undeniable power. The Michael Stanley song, “Let’s Get the Show On the Road” retains a travel weary sentiment the band no doubt identifies with in many levels, and they conveyed it well on this night.

To end the show, a lively version of Jerry Joseph’s “Climb To Safety” offers another rocking verification this Carbondale show represents a fine beginning to this Widespread Panic archival journey.