After walking offstage last night to hang out at the Big Something afterparty, Widespread Panic shuffled back on stage Saturday night at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater to deliver a classic rocker of a show, to a crowd fueled on excitement and cold beers. With the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team locked in an elimination game, the boys provided the audience with action-packed distraction and eventually solemn consolation.
To open the night, the band dove right into the instrumental staple “Disco” from Panic in the Streets infamy. Despite opening with “Disco” in St. Augustine, the song foreshadows an evening of excellence when John Bell approaches the microphone with a casual “Evenin’ everybody,” and kicks into the beloved tune. Keeping the ravenous crowd subdued, Dave Schools led the boys through a sizzling version of Calvin Carter & Bobby Rush’s “Bowlegged Woman”.
Taking it back to an old-school sentimentality, John Bell took lead vocals for a heartfelt rendition of “I’m Not Alone”, off Widespread Panic’s self-titled second album. With JoJo Hermann on vocals, he led the six-piece through a historical jam, “1×1”, which tells the story of Panic’s tale of Sugarman and the collapse of the Clear Creek Bridge on Interstate 80. After, Widespread Panic continued the birthday celebration of musical cohort Daniel Hutchens of Bloodkin, with a somber take on “Can’t Get High.” The band then concluded the first set with a scorchin’ cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Taildragger”, which segued into “Rock” from their self-titled album, making for an intense finish to the set.
Returning to the stage after checking the beleaguered Brewers’ score, Widespread Panic kicked into a 27- minute jam with a double segue featuring the well-known “Impossible > “Machine” > and “Barstools & Dreamers” combination, with a wild Jimmy Herring running rampant. This arrangement possibly hinted at the impossible likelihood of a comeback for the Brewers, and the diminishing chances of World Series hope. The thumping instrumental “Party At Your Mama’s House” culminated into “Ribs & Whiskey”, making for another classic combination, which the band performed during the final night of last year’s Milwookie run.
Another Hutchens birthday celebratory jam followed with the Bloodkin’s “Makes Sense to Me”, a righteous moral argument of three specific instances of social injustices. With Dave Schools on vocals leading the charge through a slick transition into Vic Chesnutt’s bass-heavy “Sleeping Man”, he added a quip of, “he could be watching you”, as well as feral howls and assistance from the White Wizard and JoJo’s synthesizer.
The rock and roll legends brought the Creole flavors and voodoo soul of New Orleans to the northern tundra with a scrumptious seafood sandwich of “Fishwater > Drums > I Walk on Guilded Splinters > Fishwater.” The drums hinted that there would be “More” (Fishstew, Mo! Mo! Mo!) coming and the band did not disappoint. After Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz conducted a thorough 14-minute beatdown of their kits, the rest of the band reemerged from watching the baseball game to annihilate a wicked cover of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters”, with Herring carving euphonic harmonies into the listener’s ears. John Bell sang like a man possessed with voodoo spirits, and the rhythm section pounded the living shit out of their instruments with forceful rage. The boys returned to “Fishwater” with the haunted moans of John Bell backed by JoJo and Schools chants of “Mo! Mo! Mo!,” as the melody of “Guilded Splinters” morphed into the chordal progressions of “Fishwater”.
The boys stumbled off stage to check the baseball game’s score one last time, before returning to devastate a blazing hot cover of Murray McLauchlan’s “Honky Red”, featuring a lively Herring and a rock-solid titan (Schools) on bass. To conclude the second night, Widespread Panic played a beautiful rendition of “Ain’t Life Grand”, featuring John Bell on the “tiny guitar” (mandolin for all those unfamiliar with PanicStream.com). The honest tune served a heartwarming purpose to all those struggling with real or misperceived conflicts, as a reminder to look above the horizon and focus on all the blessings instead of misfortunes. Sorry Brewers, but it was a helluva season, and as the eternal sports expression goes, there’s always next year.
Even though the Milwaukee Brewers were eliminated during last night’s show, the end-of-season melancholy melted away alongside the powerful energy that was put forth by Widespread Panic. Tonight, the band returns to the Riverside Theater for one last hurrah, before heading to Las Vegas for their Halloween run.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Riverside Theater | Milwaukee, WI | 10/20/2018
Set One: Disco, Bowlegged Woman, I’m Not Alone, Blight, 1×1, Can’t Get High, Tail Dragger > Rock
Set Two: Impossible > Machine > Barstools & Dreamers, Party At Your Mama’s House > Ribs & Whiskey, Makes Sense To Me > Sleeping Man, Fishwater > Drums > I Walk On Guilded Splinters > Fishwater
Encore: Honky Red, Ain’t Life Grand*
Notes * w/ JB on mandolin