With temperatures starting to drop to a wintery chill, Widespread Panic returned to the stage at the fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA on Monday for the second of three planned performances as part of the band’s 2019 New Year’s Eve run. In doing so, the titans of swamp rock and roll became the “Most Played Artist” during the Georgia venue’s storied 90-year career, with Panic hosting 37 headlining shows over their long-tenured career.
To celebrate the penultimate show of the decade, Widespread’s first set was comprised of old-school classics and the entire two sets of only originals from the band’s extensive catalog. Paul Hoffman, Widespread Panic’s Jedi lighting director, demonstrated the marvels of his lighting rig with new-fangled, psychedelic capabilities.
To commence the festivities, Widespread trotted out the gate with an unhurried “Space Wrangler” off their 1988 debut album by the same name. Guitarist Jimmy Herring quickened the pace from canter to gallop as the band dug into their roots and delved into every nook and cranny, leaving no stone unturned in this exuberant tune which has evolved into a cosmic celebration of the life of founding band member, Michael Houser.
Dave Schools strolled to the helm for a head-bobbing stroll down “Walkin’ (For Your Love)” before the group banded together to annihilate a weighty take on “Rock”. It was during “Rock” when John Bell became a veritable firebrand. Throughout both songs, JB shared some sweet vocal interplay with Schools.
After a brief silence from the band, Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz kicked into the rolling rhythm of “Pleas” that culminated into sensory overload when joined in by the sizzlin’ riffs of Herring, JoJo Hermann, and the thunderous notes from Schools. Although the song wasn’t listed on an album until Panic’s third studio album, 1993’s Everyday, it first appeared on setlists during the band’s early days in January of 1988.
A meandering transition wove its improvised course until Schools slammed the brakes and anchored down into a sliding bass introduction to “Stop-Go.” This marked the 761st time Widespread has performed this tune, and there wasn’t a person in the audience unprepared for another go-around. Continuing the old-school theme, John Bell engraved “I’m Not Alone” with his vocal chisels directly onto the heart. This song appeared on the band’s second album in 1991, but has been played since the summer of 1987.
A furious “Little Kin” bucked the trend and became the only song with a debut after 1990 from the first set.The ravenous audience didn’t seem to mind the shakeup as the audio assault died down and wild applause resonated between the theater’s walls.Reverting to the band’s formative years, an evolutionary “Conrad” (the Caterpillar) wiggled about to close the second set with percussive pizzazz.Every song of the first set was written and debuted in the band’s first decade together with almost every composition–apart from “Little Kin” (1993)–predating 1990.
Shuffling back to their positions on stage, Panic performed a highly-sought-after “From the Cradle” off 2006’s Earth to America. After falling out of rotation, WSP took this one off the shelf earlier this year during the band’s October run at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater. Herring’s solo carried the music right into a soaring “Saint Ex” with the help of School’s bone-crushing bass riffs. As the opening track to 2010’s Dirty Side Down, this song was inspired by the unbelievable story of a German pilot who shot down his favorite author, Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in WWII with the lyrics, “If I knew I knew you, I never would have shot you down.”
A slight pause was taken before JB and JoJo captivated throughout a piano-laden performance of “New Blue”, another sought-after tune that recently resurfaced this year at the acoustic run in Nashville after an 18-year hiatus. This also marked the sixth time ever that the song has been played. JoJo’s piano blazed the way into “Big Wooly Mammoth”, reincarnating this prehistoric beast for an interstadial romp around downtown Atlanta. An improvised prologue was tacked on the end before the band took their second quick break of the set.
To follow, an incessant stream of songs hit like a barrage of jabs from a world-class boxer with a jam-packed “Machine > Drums & Bass > Barstools & Dreamers” section that extended for a walloping 33-minutes. The jolted “Machine” grinded onward with Dave Schools piloting the mechanical monster with his heavy plucking. After walking offstage and spending a dozen or so minutes with Herring, JoJo, JB, Schools rejoined the percussionists, Trucks, and Ortiz, for a badass, impromptu “Run Like Hell” jam. A short glimpse inside the diabolical mind of Schools later, the rest of the band returned to entrance the audience with an intoxicating round of “Barstools & Dreamers”.
Like a lucid-dream or an infinite bar-tab, the song’s twisting melodies warped the perceptions of the hypnotized crowd. After the final pause of the set, JoJo and his piano introduced “Greta” in a roundabout way before Schools incited the ravenous crowd of rabid animals into a furious frenzy. The frenzy preceded blissful euphoria as Herring segued a solo right into the introduction of a delicious “Fishwater” stew.
Herring, who remains omnipresent at every Panic show, displayed extraordinarily exceptional guitar work during “Space Wrangler”, “Rock”, “Machine”, and “Greta > Fishwater”. As the entire band threw their combined weight into the final “Fishwater” meltdown, many members of the dazed audience lost track of time. JB and Schools picked up the pieces with an awesome call-and-response section and Herring, Trucks, and Ortiz punctuated the end of the second set with a bombardment of exclamation marks.
The second night’s encores consisted of the only covers of the evening. For only the third time ever, Panic performed Los Lobos‘ “Somewhere in Time”. After debuting in 2012, the Los Lobos original was brought off the shelf at this year’s incredible acoustic August run in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. The only other cover was a poignant rendition of David Earle Johnson’s “Time is Free”. The tune was a staple of the band’s late mentor and spiritual advisor, Col. Bruce Hampton, who included it on his 1980 Outside Looking Out album with the Late Bronze Age. JB nailed the zeal and charisma of the vocal performance. It was a stoic tribute to the mystical performer who passed away after collapsing on stage during a celebration of his 70th birthday at the Fox Theatre.
To conclude the second night of music, Widespread Panic returned to their own repertoire with the ponderous question “Ain’t Life Grand?”. Through the rollercoaster ride of time, only one thing has remained a constant; Widespread Panic delivered show after show of masterfully coordinated performance. From the lights to the sound, these mad scientists devote their energies and pursue perfection, and it shows in every beat, measure, and song. In the words sung by Col. Bruce Hampton, “Boom boom/Bang bang/Look out here it comes!” as Widespread Panic’s greatly anticipated New Year’s Eve show remains in the threshold of 2020.
Scroll down for a mix of fan-shot videos from Monday’s celebratory performance.
Widespread Panic – “Little Kin” – 12/30/19
[Video: Patricia Hatcher]
Widespread Panic – “Conrad” – 12/30/19
[Video: Patricia Hatcher]
Widespread Panic – “Big Wooly Mammoth” – 12/30/19
[Video: Patricia Hatcher]
Widespread Panic will wrap up 2019 with one more night at the Fox tonight, December 31st.
As always, fans can stream a full recording of the show via PanicStream.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Fox Theatre | Atlanta, GA | 12/30/19
Set One: Space Wrangler, Walkin’ (For Your Love), Rock, Pleas > Jam > Stop-Go, I’m Not Alone, Little Kin, Conrad (69 mins)
Set Two: From the Cradle > Saint Ex, New Blue > Big Wooly Mammoth > Jam, Machine > Drums > Drums & Bass > Barstools & Dreamers, Greta > Fishwater (85 mins)
Encore: Somewhere In Time, Time Is Free, Ain’t Life Grand (25 mins)
– ‘The Other One’ jam during Drums & Bass
– ‘Somewhere In Time’ Los Lobos original (3rd time played)
– ‘Time Is Free’ LTP 3/02/17 Panic en la Playa Seis (102 shows)