Like the nameless bluesmen of the past, Widespread Panic retraced the spectral footprints of their predecessors up Route 61 N along the Mighty Mississippi and into the streets of Chicago. It took a fortnight but when the muddy banditos rolled into town, it was high noon, and they were ready for action. Their sights were set on a three-day run at the Chicago Theatre after two COVID-related reschedules delivered a rare Wednesday show unto the history books last night.
Rolling up their sleeves and getting down to business, Widespread Panic released “Pigeons” from its confines for a psychedelic opening flight before grounding the jam into Bloodkin’s “Makes Sense to Me”. John Bell adjusted the third verse’s lyrics to “I was talking to a black man / from anywhere” to broaden the song’s scope of reference.
A scorching “Little Kin” followed in all its boot-stomping glory. Dave Schools and JB hollered in chaotic unison. JoJo Hermann chiseled at the stone-hearted folks for an emotionally charged take on “This Part of Town” (“Where there is love / there is hope”) before cranking up the party vibes for a foamy sip of “Tall Boy”. Jimmy Herring played the lead bartender serving up potent potables and crispy cold brews for the ravenous audience.
The tone and melody transitioned again, this time into Talking Heads’ “Heaven” where JB’s vocals shone like a full moon on a cloudless night. Flowers fell from the sky like at the end of Gladiator. When Dave Schools collected enough for a bouquet, he threw them indifferently into a meat grinder along with a heavy-metal medley of roadkill and ground scores to create a concoction strong enough for the thumping, instrumental “Machine.”
As is tradition, Panic flowed into an intoxicating serving of “Barstools and Dreamers” which featured a succinct Bob Marley rap from his “Trenchtown Rock”. Winding down the lengthy first set, Jimmy Herring blazed the way through Murray McLauchlan’s “Honky Red” before finishing the set with a tribute to legendary Chicago bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, “Tail Dragger”. Although written by the prolific Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf stamped it with his signature growl and made it his own.
Returning from the shadows, Widespread Panic sauntered back onstage for the second set. After the musicians were settled in their respective positions, a swinging “From the Cradle” made its rounds (“About as stable as a drunk on shaky ground!”) before an uplifting “Pleas” commandeered the venue’s vibe.
Keeping it sacred, Widespread segued seamlessly into the late Bill Withers’ “Use Me”. Like a medium who channels spirits from another world, John Bell tapped into a deep well to deliver a soulful take on the Withers’ tune. Next, JB switched gears to play the part of a lover spurned and dished out a bone-chilling serving of “Mercy”.
The music never stopped as JoJo’s piano churned out a raucous “Bust It Big” which featured a drum duel between Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz before closing out the latter half in a frenzy. WSP segued into another instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House” (“That Thang” for the more experienced bunch). Jimmy Herring redirected the currents and tested Chicago’s electrical grid causing the lights to flicker as he launched into warp speed.
To conclude the uninterrupted stream of sound, Panic washed aground for a “Vacation” on the shores of Lake Michigan. Keeping the theme of brotherhood alive, Widespread finished the second set with Glenn Esparza and Jerry Joseph’s “Climb to Safety.” (Vacation: “With you by my side / I might get back alive / from my / next Vacation” & CTS: “We must grab each other’s collar / riser out of the water / ’cause you know as well as I do / it’s no fun to die alone!”)
After a short hiatus, Widespread Panic returned to stage to unearth Billy Joe Shaver’s “Chunk of Coal” for the first time since 2019’s acoustic Ryman Auditorium run. To conclude the first show with pizzazz, (not to be confused with Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza) Panic covered Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” written by Steve Winwood.
Widespread Panic – “Chunk of Coal” (Billy Joe Shaver) – 11/17/21
Widespread Panic – “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Steve Winwood) – 11/17/21
[Video: Tim M]
The six-piece of swamp rockers continue their Chicago takeover for two more shows tonight and tomorrow. Be there or be square. Never miss a Wednesday show!
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Chicago Theatre | Chicago, IL | 11/17/21
Set One (8:15 CT): Pigeons, Makes Sense To Me, Little Kin, This Part Of Town, Tall Boy > Heaven, Machine > Barstools and Dreamers, Honky Red, Tail Dragger (79 mins)
Set Two: From The Cradle, Pleas > Use Me, Mercy > Bust It Big > Drums > Bust It Big, Party At Your Mama’s House > Vacation, Climb To Safety (93 mins)
Encore: Chunk of Coal, Can’t Find My Way Home (10 mins)
– Bob Marley rap during ‘Barstools and Dreamers’
– ‘Chunk of Coal’ LTP 8/24/19 Nashville (45 shows)
– ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ LTP 3/31/19 Durham (62 shows)