As the Widespread Panic faithful lined up for the Sunday service at the Beacon Theatre, most anticipated a sanctified fourth night that bordered on overly sentimental. Few heads expected the lords of jam rock to cross the River Styx to smash open the gates of hell to unleash hounds, Demogorgons, and tempt the devil himself with the souls of the Good People.
With an acknowledging nod, the sextet walked onstage to deafening ovation as John Bell casually remarked, “Happy Sunday, everybody!” The set started out aggressively with Van Morrison’s “Send Your Mind” followed by a tough “All Time Low”. The grim lyrics tumbled forth with dark hues, establishing an ominous palette for the evening (“And the night is as black as coal.” … “Black heart sun rides the sky.” … “Saw a lady in the streetlight / She was walking with her man / They were headed for the fire”).
After a slight pause, JoJo Hermann swung through the opening of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’” as Dave Schools anchored the boat with a thundering bass line. JoJo retook the jam baton from there for the funky intro to J.J. Cale‘s “Ride Me High”. In the midst of an euphoric jam, JoJo and Jimmy Herring leaned into an unholy tease of the Allman Brothers Band’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”—a song the Allman Brothers Band named after a tombstone at Macon, GA’s Rose Hill Cemetery many years before they forged their storied relationship with the Beacon.
Widespread Panic – “Ride Me High” (J.J. Cale) – 7/24/22
Throughout the next transition, under the guise of an upbeat, ’80s-electro Gary Numan “Cars” tease, the darkening blight reached its tendrils into the audience’s minds with a Vecna-like callousness. By the time the band moved into a soul-snatching “You Got Yours”, the illustrious venue had completed its submersion to the into Upside-Down.
Exploring the new land, WSP trotted through the astral planes of “Space Wranger” before bounding hand-in-hand like astronauts on the moon during “Walkin’ (For Your Love)”. Closing out the first frame with a lantern-guided expedition into the shadowed crypts of St. Patricks Cathedral, Vic Chesnutt’s “Protein Drink / Sewing Machine” brought the all the heat and horror of Sunday evening’s electric boogaloo.
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Upon return from set break, Panic sunk a boulder-sized “Rock” into the bottomless depths of the murky—and possibly toxic—Hudson River before segueing into the progressive instrumental “Party At Your Mama’s House”. Another heavy transition ignited the charcoals of “Ribs and Whiskey” which featured JB on slide guitar and divine piano work from JoJo’s corner.
When the six-headed monster paused to catch its breath, the encroaching shadows overtook the stage, possessing the musicians with an unholy fervor that they would not expel until the end of the show. “Halloween Face”, debuted last Halloween among the voodoo spirits in New Orleans, resonated for its 8th-ever performance, as JB sang with an unnatural cruelty (“I’m gonna wear your face on Halloween / Then you’ll be just as scared as me”) and voiced the hoofed, lizard-tongued leader of the damned with the sinister lyrics, “Your soul is delicious to me.”
Jimmy Herring, now possessed, used his incredible guitar abilities to spew evil guitar licks as Schools egged him on with malicious intent and a behemoth bass barrage. To pledge fully to the forces of evil, Panic turned next to “Me and the Devil Blues” by Robert Johnson, the Mississippi Delta bluesman who notoriously met the Devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 and sold his soul in exchange for guitar playing abilities. Last night, the Devil lurked amongst the aisles, looking to prey on the ambitious and naïve. JB’s vocals were perfect.
JoJo’s piano introduced a monumental “Bust It Big” that included a percussive duel between Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz before Schools returned and stabbed the jam with his pitchfork, corrupting the melody into the traditional “One Kind Favor”. Without digging the grave too deep, the whole song is as creepy as a solitary walk through a cemetery at midnight, and Schools executed the tune with the weight of a serrated-edged guillotine. The lyrics “Rosemary’s baby was a New York City kid!” rang out in unison from the newly possessed crowd, who helplessly submitted to the powers that be. Ending the second set, the band performed Jerry Joseph’s “North” (“I go North / find out what I know / who in the hell I am!”).
Pushing close to the 11:30 pm curfew, Widespread Panic, still grappling with the evil spirits, returned to perform a single-song encore: a scorching cover of Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama”. As the encore reverberated, the theatre staff became aware of the band and audience’s possession and prepared for a communal exorcism. As soon as the fiery encore ended out, the ushers flipped the house lights and, just maybe, released some holy water through the vents as one by one the audience members awoke from their trances and stumbled toward the door.
After last night, there’s no predicting what supernatural events lie in store on the fifth and final night, but I am damn sure gonna be there, ready for anything. I’m also bringing a flask of holy water just in case the devil tries his tricks again. Stick together, strength in numbers, and look out for your brothers and sisters. Night five ahead, let’s ride.
Setlist [via PanicStream]: Widespread Panic | Beacon Theatre | New York, NY | 7/24/22
Set One: Send Your Mind, All Time Low, Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Ride Me High > You Got Yours, Space Wrangler, Walkin’ (For Your Love), Protein Drink / Sewing Machine (69 mins)
Set Two: Rock > Party At Your Mama’s House > Ribs and Whiskey, Halloween Face, Me and the Devil Blues, Bust It Big > Drums > One Kind Favor > Bust It Big, North (89 mins)
Encore: Red Hot Mama (7 mins)
Notes – ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’ tease during ‘Ride Me High’
– ‘Cars’ tease before ‘You Got Yours’
– ‘One Kind Favor’ LTP 1/24/20 Playa Nueve (61 shows)