I admit it. I don't get Widespread Panic. I've seen them live. I've listened to their records. I struggle to stay awake. I don't think they're bad at all. I just think they're boring. But I'm in the minority. The long-running Atlanta-based roots-rock and jam band might be about the most popular touring act to regularly come through Memphis. Their shows aren't just concerts -- they're events; they're parties that overflow into myriad local clubs and last all night. And you aren't just part of an audience but part of a family. Or something like that. It's all a bit too communal for me, and if your name isn't Jimi Hendrix or Sonny Rollins, I'll take my bathroom break during the solo, thank you very much. But each to his or her own. So, if you're a fan of the Panic, you probably know all about their gig Friday, October 24th, at the Mid-South Coliseum.
But maybe you don't know about the bevy of after-show concerts at local clubs, all of which sound more promising to me. For starters, Oxford faves The Kudzu Kings will be at Newby's, which should be the coziest of the bunch, and the Allman Brothers spinoff The Derek Trucks Band will be joined by Tishomingo and local blues stalwart Richard Johnston at the New Daisy Theatre, which will certainly be the biggest of the post-Panic shows. And finally, eclectic locals The Gamble Brothers Band will set up shop at Young Avenue Deli, and here's guessing that'll be the best of the bunch.
Okay, Big Star's great. But (sacrilege, I know) I'm a little partial to Alex Chilton's first band. The Box Tops' signature song, "The Letter," has gotten so much spin on oldies radio that it's hard to really hear it. It might as well be Steppenwolf. But there is a reason that Mr. Chilton is sometimes considered the godfather of punk, and it's not just because he produced the Cramps. "The Letter" recombined the raw root elements of rock in a way that, for the time, sounded positively dangerous. Hokey honky-tonk lines like "She wrote me a letter, said she couldn't live without me no more" got a brand-new life riding on a horn-driven wave of Memphis raunch. "Cry Like a Baby" repeated the formula without sounding particularly formulaic. And you just can't listen to much of the garage-rock making the rounds these days without hearing a little bit of the Box Tops in the mix. So when you go see Chilton and the boys (and you will) when they get back together to play Arts in the Park at Audubon Park on Saturday, October 25th, don't think you're watching a golden-oldies act so much as a group once ahead of their time, now thoroughly up-to-date.
Back when Harlan T. Bobo and I were doing burlesque together in New Orleans, I watched the man in question tell a joke so off-color he was nearly booed off the stage by a capacity crowd of Betty Page-worshiping hipsters. That's right, kids; he was too ironic even for people wearing fezzes. But did it get him down? Not Harlan T. He just sat there in his broken-down cowboy hat, puffing on a cigarette and squeezing his accordion with a big ol' grin on his face. The longtime American Death Ray sideman for whom, it would seem, the word eclectic was invented, has started his own side project. See what he has to offer when he plays the Hi-Tone CafÇ on Monday, Oct. 27th. --Chris Davis