'Spreadheads should be delighted by this anomaly in Widespread Panic's catalog. Recorded live in Myrtle Beach in November of 2003, Über Cobra is the first set of the concert, and is now an "acoustic" album by the Southern jam rockers. The reason the word is in quotes is because the organ is still used and it's electric as hell, and John Keane, the band's producer, plays pedal steel on four tracks. That said, this is one of the most cohesive live dates the band has ever recorded. Full of the space and texture that only acoustic instruments can provide, the playing is tight and inspired. The flowing nature of the band's sound -- instantly recognizable even without electricity -- lends itself well to the relaxed, "unplugged" atmosphere. The effect of this set is anything but back-porch laid-back. The music is high quality, full of crackling energy and gorgeous dynamics. What's most revealing here is just how great a singer John Bell is. On the band's other live outings, he is forced to growl into the maelstrom of swirling instruments. Here, the subtle nuances in his voice are exposed up front and extend the musicality of the proceedings. The track selection is wonderful, too, including originals like "Wonderin'" and "Nobody's Loss," with Keane's sweet, loping steel in the background. And as satisfying as these and other tracks are, it is in the covers that Widespread Panic reveals its true strength as a band. Revisiting the Talking Heads song catalog, the band delivers a gorgeous extended version of David Byrne's "City of Dreams" that captures the dreaminess of the original and adds an authentic kind of rural Southern soul. The read of Willis Alan Ramsey's "Geraldine & the Honey Bee" offers a wonderful tension between the relaxed honky tonk stroll of the original and Bell's country blues vocal. Likewise, Vic Chesnutt's "Expiration Day" is a tender, deeply moving ballad that literally drips with emotion. "Mercy" rollicks like the road tune it is, strutting its minor-key rambling acoustic rock into snarling intensity. And just before the closer, Widespread Panic trots out its reverent yet trademarked take on Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," all the more poignant because of its hushed volume. Bell's voice wrenches all the desolate anguish out of Stevie Winwood's lyric as the hand percussion and guitars and organ slip around him like a well-worked glove. "Papa Johnny Road" closes the set, with George McConnell's killer sharp National Steel licks filling the verses and underscoring the vocal lines. This is one of the Panic's very best live recordings not only because of its eclectic presentation, which is part of the draw, but also because this band plays so exceptionally well in this setting -- it would be a delight for a studio album to be done this way as well.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek