With NYC’s Beacon Theatre still smoldering after five consecutive scorchers last month, Widespread Panic headed south for a rescheduled four-night New Year’s run at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The performance marked a homecoming for the Georgia-native band both geographically and spiritually as the run’s night coincided with the 20th anniversary of the passing of founding guitarist and band cornerstone Michael Houser.
While the band never spoke his name, Houser’s spirit, songbook, and voice rang out through the Fox throughout the night. After a recorded snippet of Mikey speaking about Widespread Panic got the show started (“It’s our music. It comes from us, I don’t know anything else to say but that. We do it because it’s all, all we, we can do pretty much”), the band proceeded to perform two sets packed with old-school originals from the Houser era.
Digging into the music, Duane Trucks introduced “Porch Song” as balloons showered the audience in full New Year’s Eve fashion. Dave Schools then buckled into the bouncing rhythm of “Love Tractor”, giving Jimmy Herring the opportunity to cut his first guitar solo of the night.
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For the first of three covers of the night, John Bell gave a raw performance of Vic Chesnutt’s “Aunt Avis” that teemed with emotion. The band continued with the most recent tune of the night’s two sets, “Little Lilly”, which debuted in late ‘98. The audience basked in the light of “Diner” until a spacey transition meandered through teases of Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica” and a descending scale that resembled the introduction of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You”.
Eventually, JoJo Hermann reached out his hand and dragged a slow-building “1×1” out of the river. To close out the first frame in raucous debauchery, Panic plunged into “Proving Ground” before bookending the set with a raging “Papa’s Home”.
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Returning from setbreak, Widespread Panic opened the second frame with “Mercy” for the first time ever. During another heavy transition, the sextet sprinkled in a tease of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” before Schools coughed and introduced Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”.
Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” flowed in from there, marking the third and final cover of the night—though, in keeping with the old-school nature of the show, both songs were debuted by Panic before 1990. Two of the outfit’s oldest songs followed in quick succession as “Sleepy Monkey” swung in through the porch door of “Holden Oversoul”.
Without stopping, Panic delivered an uplifting “Pleas” before a poignant “Vacation” crashed like a wave over the audience. When JB sang, “As Panic grabbed my legs / you know / it pulled me in,” the crowd responded with boisterous applause, their twinkling eyes and roguish smiles brimming with understanding as they nodded in agreement. The band rode that energy through two more classic originals, “Wondering” and “Ain’t Life Grand”, to wind down the set.
Upon walking back onstage for the encore, Widespread Panic seemed to touch on the emotional undertones of the evening with the vulnerable admittance of “Don’t Want To Lose You”. The JoJo-penned tune, the most recent song on the setlist (debuted in 2003), describes the heartache of going through life without their friend and soulful centerpiece of the band.
To follow, Widespread played “Galleon” for the first time since 2017’s Red Rocks run, and only the second time since Mikey’s death. For a rare third encore tune, Panic kicked up the intensity one last time with a gloriously raunchy taste of “Fishwater”. As the audience members picked up their pieces and headed for the door, the bonus track from 94’s Ain’t Life Grand, “Waiting For The Wind To Blow Down The Tree In My Backyard”, played over the house P.A.
Widespread Panic returns to the Fox Theatre on Thursday for its second of four helpings of delayed New Year’s festivities. For a full list of upcoming shows, head here.
Below, check out a selection of fan-shot videos from the performance as well as a gallery of photos via Russ Campbell.
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Widespread Panic – “Proving Ground” – 8/10/22
[Video: Patricia Hatcher]
Widespread Panic – “Papa’s Home” (Partial) – 8/10/22
[Video: Soul Shakedown]
Widespread Panic – “Sweet Leaf” (Black Sabbath) – 8/10/22
[Video: Matt Becherer]
Setlist [via PanicStream]: Widespread Panic | Fox Theatre | Atlanta, GA | 8/10/22
Set One: Porch Song, Love Tractor, Aunt Avis, Little Lilly, Diner > 1 x 1, Proving Ground, Papa’s Home (70 mins)
Set Two: Mercy > Jam > Sweet Leaf, Mr Soul, Sleepy Monkey, Holden Oversoul > Pleas > Vacation, Wondering > Ain’t Life Grand (74 mins)
Encore: Don’t Wanna Lose You, Galleon > Fishwater
Notes – Mikey speaking intro; Balloon drop during ‘Porch Song’
– First time ‘Mercy’ has opened a 2nd set
– ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ tease during ‘Mercy’
– ‘Sweet Leaf’ LTP 6/26/21 Red Rocks (51 shows)
– ‘Galleon’ LTP 6/25/17 Red Rocks (158 shows)
– Entire show with Edie Jackson (ASL interpreter)