The titans of jam rock and roll, Widespread Panic, threw down a spicy fourth and final night south of the border at the Hard Hotel & Rock Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico on Monday night to wrap up their ninth annual destination event with Cloud 9 Adventures.
To kick off the day’s festivities, Jerry Joseph performed on the Heaven Stage under the early afternoon sun. This stage gave the audience a chance to stay cool while wading waist-deep in the lagoon with endless beverages circulating.
Later in the evening, Widespread resumed their battle stations onstage to finish this spectacular run with yet another filthy rock and roll show that altogether contests as one of the best runs in the road-hardened veterans’ long and storied career.
Getting down to business, the crowd favorite “Pigeons” migrated down to Mexico for a psychedelic flight around the sun-bleached beaches. Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” allowed John Bell to change the tone of his voice from a debonair Southern gentleman to the unrefined growl of a chain-smoking city punk. JoJo Hermann and Dave Schools blazed the trail into a smoking “Ribs N’ Whiskey” while the insatiable audience indulged in a hearty helping.
“Up All Night” paved a cobblestone path into the bass-heavy melody of “Little Lily” before igniting the courtyard with a “Driving Song” sandwich. The serene “Driving” took a turn toward hell-bound as the band cranked up the intensity to burn rubber throughout the fiery instrumental “Disco” before returning once more to the casual and peaceful tempo of a Sunday drive with the latter half of “Driving Song”.
Keeping the flow of music uninterrupted, Widespread Panic took off into the majestic and emotional rollercoaster ride that is “Saint Ex”. The opening cut off 2010’s Dirty Side Down album was based on the incredible story of a German pilot shooting down his favorite author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—of The Little Prince notoriety—during World War II. To top off this sensational first set, Widespread Panic finished with a heartfelt “Ain’t Life Grand” (as if any in attendance would argue otherwise).
The second set started with the leisurely pace of the instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House” progressively accelerating until well past light speed compliments of Jimmy Herring. After such speeds were deemed unsustainable, Dave Schools bounced into Robert Johnson’s old blues tune, “Stop Breaking Down”. Finally, four days after it was teased at soundcheck, Panic drifted into the complete version of “Pilgrims” before JoJo dug up a fossilized “Big Wooly Mammoth” for a prehistoric jamboree admitting, “Sometimes I feel like an evolutionary reject! / Livin’ in a Fortnite world.”
A fluid segue opened the barn doors for a bouncing ride on “Love Tractor” which allowed the audience and Schools to “yip,” “yeehaw,” and emit an earth-shaking, synchronized “Yahoo!” Panic took a quick pause to give the audience time to mentally prepare for a momentous “Papa’s Home” sandwich with a percussive “Rock” as the meaty middle slab. During “Rock”, JB whopped up a fury with his slide guitar before passing the baton to Dave Schools to hammer out a heavy bass solo.
The slow trot of “Space Wrangler” picked up speed, galloping into a swinging barroom jam that extolled the virtues of “The place that pours the coldest beer!” (to which, JB ad-libbed, ”And pour a drop of whiskey in there!”) JB also added “Cuz his pappy’s in there!” after the conventional lyrics “Doesn’t want to look like a fool / Pass the jail without tears,” a line which he has included in previous performances to give glimpses of the bigger picture behind the story of the song in JB’s mental archives.
To close out the second set, Widespread Panic invited Ivan Neville to accompany JoJo amongst his surrounding keyboards on “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind”, a cover written by the legendary Chicago bluesman, Willie Dixon. The revolving door of guests kept turning as most of the Playa Allstars rhythm section as well as others (including Nicki Bluhm, Terence Higgins, Andee Avila, Ben Vinograd, and Steve Lopez) joined in to perform a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” for the first time since a Vegas show in July of 2011.
Upon returning for their final encore of the trip, Widespread Panic performed a lengthy, quadruple combination of cuts that spelt out “P.E.L.P.” with the first letter of each song. Dave Schools hinted at the absurdity to come when he exclaimed “Stamina!” before diving into a molly whopper “Postcard”. The Thomas “Bear” Guenther-inspired tune voiced the shared sentiment that “This town is nuts / My kinda place! / I never wanna leave! (I never, never, never wanna leave!!!)” Bloodkin’s “End of the Show” followed after a false start in which JB humbly admitted, “I’m not used to playing this song on guitar.”
Halfway through the encore and showing no signs of slowing down, Neil Young’s “Last Dance” had a little bit of everything including a multitude of intensities and tempos and a slowed-down, dream-like section that featured a hypnotic JB crooning like a lullaby: “Time to go! / Time to go!” “Coffee cup is hot; orange juice is cold, cold, cold” and a singsong “Howdy, Neighbor!” like Mr. Wilson in Tim Allen’s Home Improvement.
To punctuate PELP with its final letter—as well as a musical exclamation mark—Widespread Panic flourished one last sweeping segue into the beloved “Porch Song”, concluding what can easily be argued as the best Playa run in the history of the event as well as contesting for a spot on the Pantheon of Panic’s best multi-night runs ever. The music rolled until the wee hours of the morning once more, as the Playa Allstars officially closed out this musical getaway.
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01/27/20 – Panic en la Playa 9 – Hard Rock – Mexico . Set II: Party at Your Mama’s House > Stop Breaking Down, Pilgrims, Big Wooly Mammoth, Love Tractor, Papa’s Home > Rock > Papa’s Home, Space Wrangler, Weak Brain Narrow Mind*, Sympathy For The Devil** . . Encore: Postcard, End Of Show, Last Dance, Porch Song . *With Ivan Neville **With everyone 📸 @joshtimmermans
To avoid describing the many pitfalls that can hinder a Panic en la Playa attendee during any moment of any day would be sorely amiss. With tequila freely flowing throughout the resort all week, making it through this destination festival is a testament to the crowd’s devout endurance, fortitude, and sheer luck. Best of wishes to those who didn’t add on a post-night of recovery and jumped on a plane back to their individual realities. To those who stayed longer, live it up!
The next shows slated on Widespread Panic’s schedule are a five-night run at the Beacon Theatre in New York City starting on February 27th and running straight through March 2nd. From there, Widespread Panic will mount a three-night run at the Chicago Theatre from April 2nd-4th as well as a two-night headlining slot at their own 3rd Annual Trondossa Festival in North Charleston, South Carolina. For a full list of upcoming tour dates, head here.
See below for a selection of videos from the final night of Panic en la Playa Nueve:
Widespread Panic w/ Ivan Neville, Nicki Bluhm, Terence Higgins, Andee Avila, Ben Vinograd, Steve Lopez – “Sympathy For The Devil” [Rolling Stones cover] – 1/27/20
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Panic En La Playa | Hard Rock Resort & Casino | Riviera Maya, Mexico | 1/27/20
Set One: Pigeons, Goin’ Out West > Ribs & Whiskey, Up All Night, Little Lilly, Driving Song > Disco > Driving Song > Saint Ex, Ain’t Life Grand (74 mins)
Set Two: Party At Your Mama’s House > Stop Breakin’ Down Blues, Pilgrims, Big Wooly Mammoth > Love Tractor, Papa’s Home > Rock > Papa’s Home, Space Wrangler, Weak Brain, Narrow Mind*, Sympathy for the Devil** (97 mins)
Encore: Postcard, End of the Show, Last Dance > Porch Song (23 mins)
* w/ Ivan Neville on keys
** w/ Ivan Neville on percussion, keys, and vocals; Nicki Bluhm on vocals; Terence Higgins, Andee Avila, Ben Vinograd, and Steve Lopez on percussion
– ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ LTP 7/15/11 Las Vegas (463 shows)
– False start before ‘End of the Show’