With two nights of unrestrained debauchery behind them, Widespread Panic shuffled on stage once more to wrap the three-night run in Milwaukee to an explosive end. The band continued to raise the bar in their bid for perfection with crisp tones and impeccable synchronizations that left the audience and couch tour listeners eager for more.
The heaters came out early with a first set of classics, opening the show with “Conrad” which picked up serious momentum before slowing down the tempo for a juicy “Coconuts” that left the audience’s mouth watering. The song had never been played in Milwaukee before. Continuing the trend of songs written before 1986, Dave Schools led the boys through a wild bass-heavy romp through “Stop-Go” with John Bell “strutting and crowing” along the way. The bassline danced and morphed into an extended version of Vic Chestnutt’s “Aunt Avis” with a dreamy conclusion added to the end. Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”, which hasn’t been played since Gentleman’s night in Atlanta on 12/30/17, developed out of “Aunt Avis” and featured a spirited John Bell on vocals.
A slight pause gave way to a scorcher “Rebirtha” which callously presented the lines “I know a town where real life’s a game, Baseball’s all that’s real” to a city eliminated from postseason contention. A heavy, psychedelic development emerged from this tune with a “We Want the Funk” tease that slowly morphed in a slow, ponderous rendition of “Wondering”. An aggressive “Dyin’ Man” culminated into a head bobbin’ version of yet another old school jam “Pigeons” to finish the first set. All songs played in the first set have been played by the band before the mid-nineties with most dating back to the band’s eighties repertoire. Every musician played exceptionally well with noteworthy performances by the incandescent Jimmy Herring, dominating Dave Schools, and calculated madness of John Bell.
Upon return from set break, the boys kicked into the only modern era song played with a gradually intensifying “Steven’s Cat”. The second set was quickly thrown into overdrive with the opening bass notes of “Arleen”. John Bell’s deranged rants about no electricity, no donuts, no chicken was absorbed by the audience in an insatiable uproar. The music flowed continuously into J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” which was hammered home by a formidable Dave Schools. An unforeseen cover of John Dawson’s “Dirty Business” was performed for the first time since the Halloween run in Broomfield, Colorado on 2016 to the raucous exhilaration of the frenzied crowd.
The boys then began an arduous task of building one of the biggest and most ridiculous musical sandwiches that have ever been constructed, beginning with the first half of a soaring “Surprise Valley” that was then commandeered by Dave Schools’ unbelievable vocal performance of “All Along the Watchtower”. The tune that was written by Bob Dylan and later popularized by Jimi Hendrix as part of his Electric Ladyland album hasn’t been played by the boys since New Year’s Eve Run at the Fox Theater nearly three years ago.
The ambitious sandwich continued to be piled higher with meaty jams including a beloved “Jack” (“who was really a jester”), a loaded portion of “Drums” featuring Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz, an extra helping of saucy jams with Schools and Herring joining the percussionists, and finally the belly-buster tribute to Vic Chestnutt with a rockin’ “Protein Drink / Sewing Machine” that culminated into the second half of “Surprise Valley” to finish this monumental masterpiece. To add to the epic conflagration, the Panics melded the music and transitioned smoothly into a heartfelt “Climb to Safety” by Jerry Joseph. This nasty sequence of music flowed nonstop from the first half of “Surprise Valley” and ended with “Climb to Safety” for a whopping total of nearly an hour of relentless jams.
Widespread Panic played two more “Songs” from the early days of the band to finish out the run in Milwaukee. Most people in attendance have no recollection of any of the shows as their brains leaked out their ears and onto the Riverside Theater’s floor. However, with recording technology at hand, it has been surmised that a lucid “Dream Song” drifted lazily into “Porch Song” for a mellow finale to an incredible night. The Riverside Theater and its shell-shocked patrons stood in awe for an indeterminable amount of time before both the establishment and audience vanished in a cloud of smoke with only scattered rubble and debris left on site.
Milwaukee will have at least a year to rebuild Riverside Theater, the cities’ infrastructure, and restock the beer supply until the next time that Widespread Panic rolls through town. Until then, the boys realign their periscopes toward the City of Las Vegas for an early Halloween celebration. With plenty still at stake, the band and the audience prime their energy and funds to go all-in next weekend at the Park Theater in the Park MGM Casino, formerly known as the Montecarlo Casino.
Odds of survival are low, but at this point, your pot-committed to bet your ass on a good time in Vegas.
Before I part, I impart the knowledge bestowed upon me from Mr. Kenny Rogers:
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em,
Know when to fold ’em.
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.
You never count your money,
When you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’,
When the dealin’s done.”
~Good luck and God bless, good people. Always keep an ace in your sleeve and your pedal to the floor.
Below, you can view a gallery of photos from Sunday night’s Riverside Theatre show via photographer Daniel Ojeda.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Riverside Theatre | Milwaukee, IN | 10/21/18
Set 1: Conrad, Coconut, Stop-Go > Aunt Avis > Pusherman, Rebirtha > Jam > Wondering, Dyin’ Man, Pigeons (87 mins)
Set 2: Steven’s Cat, Arleen > Travelin’ Light, Dirty Business, Surprise Valley > All Along The Watchtower > Jack > Drums > Jam (w/ Jimmy & Dave) > Protein Drink / Sewing Machine > Surprise Valley > Climb To Safety (96 mins)
Encore: Dream Song, Porch Song (12 mins)
Notes: ‘Coconut’ LTP 10/28/17 Vegas (FTP for Milwaukee)
‘Rebirtha’ with Dave solo tease/intro
‘Pusherman’ LTP 12/30/17 Atlanta
‘Dirty Business’ LTP 10/29/16 Broomfield (64 shows)
‘All Along The Watchtower’ LTP 12/30/15 Atlanta (141 shows)
‘Dream Song’ LTP 12/29/17 Atlanta