On Saturday night, Widespread Panic opened up their sold-out three-night New Year’s run at Atlanta, GA’s Fox Theatre. After Widespread Panic’s three-night Las Vegas Halloween run, the band stayed for an extra month in Vegas, enjoying the finest amenities that Sin City has to offer, including spa treatments and dining at the most elegant restaurants. Finally, as December dragged on, the boys stumbled back home for the holidays with well-rested smiles and pockets full of pink and orange chips. The tricks were omnipresent nightly on the Vegas Strip, but now came the time for treats with a special holiday twist.
With a casual, “Good evenin’, everybody,” John Bell welcomed the audience as the band settled into their customary positions on stage. The slow rumble revealed a suave version of “Vacation”, appearing in the opening slot for the first time ever. WSP seemed to be scornfully taunting the approaching winter temperatures as the annual tropical escape to Mexico, Panic en la Playa, comes within focus as the next shows on deck for the band.
Widespread Panic – “Vacation”
The southern kings of jam followed up their heavy-hitting opener with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Send Your Mind”. Another original “Up All Night” featured an electric Jimmy Herring, as well as an ecstatic John Bell captivating the crowd with lyrics appropriate for the holiday season. The boys led the audience down a scenic musical stroll with a cover of Neil Young’s “Walk On”, which ambled leisurely into the band’s beloved classic “Walkin’”. To end the first set, the band constructed a delicious fish sandwich with “Papa’s Home” wrapped in the middle to add a little holiday spirit. The song was written about a father working hard to make it home for Christmas.
Sunny Ortiz’s drums introduced the beginning of a dirty “Fishwater”, which segued cleanly into a bass-heavy “Bear’s Gone Fishin’” led by Dave Schools. Embodying the holiday spirit, the band nailed a progressively, raucous “Papa’s Home”, before returning to “Fishwater” to complete a true Fish Sandwich with extra sides of Herring. Schools devoured the whole damn sequence with the gut-grinding force of his bass, and exchanged some great vocal interplay with John Bell, with a swampy call-and-response. The tasty appetizer (“Fishwater” > “Bear’s Gone Fishin'” > “Papa’s Home” > “Fishwater”) foreshadowed that this meal was hardly over, as the band walked off the stage for a quick break.
Returning from set break, the boys sauntered back onstage with a classic “Disco” opener. Warren Zevon’s much sought after “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” followed with a riotous approval from the crowd. Following Zevon’s tune, the band would stop for the one and only time during last night’s second set. Emptying an endless supply of aces from their sleeves (presumably leftover from Vegas), the band began constructing one of the biggest sandwiches ever seen or heard. So big, in fact, that the word sandwich does not do it justice, and it will be replaced by “behemoth.”
The behemoth began with the serene original tune “Driving Song” as the bread, which transitioned into J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High”. JoJo Hermann dazzled the crowd throughout the entirety of the jam, shining exceptionally bright with his vocal and keyboard performance during the Cale cover. John Bell took the helm for a scintillating cover of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”, flexing his vocal chops. An explosive, high-energy jam developed organically from “Low Spark”, which peaked through a series of seismic bass waves amalgamated with rolling percussion, as well as a diabolical wizard on lead guitar dancing across the rhythms.
The furious fusion of sound came back down to Earth to finish “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” in an exuberant fashion. The layover didn’t last more than a minute before the band lifted off with a soaring “Airplane”, complete with a “Take Off Jam” in which the master pilots steered the tempo into hyper-drive. Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz remained on stage while the rest of the guys shuffled into the shadows, giving them their allocated time to smash their drum sets in improvised harmony. Upon return, the percussionists led the Panics into a pleading “Cease Fire”, with John Bell as a festive firebrand singing with despair, “We used to laugh and dance; now, we’re just angry little elves.”
Keeping the musical conflagration burning, Jimmy Herring weaved notes around School’s pulsing bass, including a quick-lick tease of J.J. Cale’s “Traveling Light”, before finally returning to the second half of “Driving Song”. This finalized the construction of one of the largest belly-buster sandwiches, hardly edible due to the size of it, and more so resembling an ungodly machine that slowly rolls toward its destination.
To end the second set, WSP crushed a mouth-watering rendition of crowd favorite “Contentment Blues” in all its southern fried glory. Returning to stage, Widespread Panic remained unstoppable with a sizzling cover of Jerry Joseph’s “Chainsaw City”. Embedded in the reggae sound, is a lyrical masterpiece with more holiday references entangled within, “You gotta swing like Christmas when you’re dancing with the hordes.” With yet another seamless transition, the band swung into another Neil Young tune with “Mr. Soul” to close the first evening of their three-night New Year’s run.
Widespread Panic – “Mr. Soul”
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Get to Atlanta’s fabulous Fox Theatre! You will not regret it as two more nights of music remain in the band’s crosshairs. God speed, good people.
Head to Widespread Panic’s website for a full list of upcoming tour dates and ticketing information.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | The Fox Theatre | Atlanta, GA | 12/29/2018
Set One: Vacation > Send Your Mind, Up All Night, Walk On > Walkin’ > Fishwater > Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Papa’s Home > Fishwater
Set Two: Disco > Lawyers, Guns And Money, Drivin’ Song > Ride Me High > Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys > Jam > Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys > Airplane > Take-Off Jam > Drum Solo> Cease Fire > Travelin’ Light Jam > Drivin’ Song > Contentment Blues
Encore: Chainsaw City > Mr. Soul
First time ‘Vacation’ has opened a show.