Monsters on the jam scene, Widespread Panic, returned to the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, WI on Thursday for their annual tour de force. During last year’s hiatus, the venue strengthened its structure and foundation to withstand the ensuing madness that only four nights of Panic in the Brew City could reap. The temperature of the crisp air dropped with the sun as the band took the stage on what was earlier that day declared “Widespread Panic Day” in the city of Milwaukee by Mayor Tom Barrett.
John “JoJo” Hermann tinkered around before dropping into a heavy “Bust It Big” to open the lengthy first set of heaters. A Thursday night special followed as Jimmy Herring paved the way into a raucous cover of James Taylor’s “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” for the first time since 2019’s NOLAween.
Dave Schools walked Herring down from the precipice of “Better Off” to mellow the rhythm into “Pickin’ Up the Pieces”. JoJo’s piano steered the ship out of the doldrums and into the bouncing beat of “Jaded Tourist”. To follow, WSP jammed out on consecutive originals with a glorious “You Should Be Glad” leading the charge into a funky “Rebirtha.”
John Bell’s vocals shone like the morning light during a cover of Michael Stanley’s “Let’s Get the Show on the Road” before the six-piece band hammered home a badass rendition of “Junior” to close out the extended 79-minute first frame.
WSP started the second set with a massive sandwich of continuous scorchers. Widespread opened with the first half of “Surprise Valley” before transitioning seamlessly into the first half of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”. The nonstop flow continued as “Shut Up and Drive” bled into a jazzy “Impossible.”
Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz knocked around their kits for a “Drums” duel before WSP re-emerged to weld “Cease Fire” and “Jamais Vu” together just as they appear on their most recent studio album, 2015’s Street Dogs. Widespread finished off the second halves of “Low Spark” and “Surprise Valley”, totaling nearly 70-straight minutes of endless jams.
The band took a breather before punctuating the set with a dirty take of “You Got Yours” and finishing off the set with a rare cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Cream Puff War”.
For the encore, Panic returned to the stage for renditions of two originals, “Jack” and a hard-hitting “Imitation Leather Shoes”. Giving the crowd their money’s worth, WSP tore into the first night at the Riverside like condemned on the gallows.
Big Something hosted an afterparty at Mo’s for the sprightly, ambitious soldiers. Still to come, three more rockin’ shows of Widespread Panic at the Riverside. Godspeed, Goodpeople. Pace and Perseverance.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Riverside Theater | Milwaukee, WI | 10/21/21
Set One (8:14 p.m. CT): Bust It Big > Knocking ‘Round The Zoo (James Taylor), Better Off, Pickin Up The Pieces, Jaded Tourist, You Should Be Glad, Rebirtha, Let’s Get The Show On The Road (Michael Stanley Band), Junior (Junior Kimbrough) (79 mins)
Set Two: Surprise Valley > Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (Traffic) > Shut Up And Drive > Impossible > Drums > Cease Fire > Jamais Vu > Low Spark of High Heeled Boys > Surprise Valley, You Got Yours, Cream Puff War (Grateful Dead) (88 mins)
Encore Jack, Imitation Leather Shoes (12 mins)
– “Better Off” LTP 8/31/19 Pensacola (36 shows)
– “Shut Up And Drive” LTP 3/22/19 Port Chester (60 shows)
– “Cream Puff War” LTP 1/26/20 Playa (22 shows)