Just two days after the first official “Widespread Panic Day” in Milwaukee, the overlords of swamp rock, Widespread Panic, returned to the Riverside Theater stage for the third consecutive night. On Saturday, both of the band’s sets were overflowing with surprise bust-outs and interwoven jams reflecting the trademark style of this juggernaut musical act.
For the first time in the band’s storied history, Widespread Panic opened Saturday night’s show with “The Waker”. The song, which was written by late guitarist Michael “Mikey” Houser for his newborn son, was removed from rotation after his death and has only been performed five times since its revival at 2018’s NYE celebration.
Back-to-back covers followed with a fiery version of Van Morrison’s “Send Your Mind” preceding the rolling funeral procession of Bloodkin’s “Henry Parsons Died”. Keyboardist JoJo Hermann included a spirited “Dark Bar” in the middle of “Goodpeople” before the percussive rhythms from Duane Trucks’ corner introduced a wholesome “Diner”. JoJo’s piano and John Bell’s improvisation worked together to make sure the audience was well fed with hearty sustenance of the soul.
Jimmy Herring’s guitar and JoJo’s clavinet added funky flavor to the transitional jam. The men of Panic carried over that monster intensity as they worked their way through consecutive covers from The Band as “Ophelia > The Shape I’m In” set the stage for a closing “Ain’t Life Grand”.
After set break, Widespread Panic came out of the gate swinging into a cataclysmic, 11-minute “Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi)”. The music continued uninterrupted for another massive second set sandwich with the first half of “Driving Song”, which soon took a meandering side road into a blazing, backwoods “Disco”.
Bassist Dave Schools grabbed the wheel, powering the headlights with his seismic low-end bombardment to steer through the enshrouding darkness of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’” and an extended reading of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama.”
Bouncing back and forth between blood- and whiskey-soaked badassery and emotionally charged ballads is JB’s specialty, and Saturday’s “I’m Not Alone” was no different. The feeling of brotherhood carried over for the remainder of the night as Panic segued into the second half of “Driving Song” to complete this uninterrupted near-hour of jams.
As the band took its first pause of the set, JoJo teased “Dark Bar (Part 2)” before introducing a raucous “Greta”. Schools howled and Herring tested Milwaukee’s electric grid. On the brink of blowing a fuse, the band settled into the nocturnal stroll of “Up All Night” led by JoJo’s organ. The diabolical Dave Schools took the reins one last time for a rowdy finale with Steve Ferguson’s “Flat Footed Flewzy.”
Widespread Panic returned for encore with a gritty blues cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down” before finishing out the show with a fan-favorite, “Porch Song”. As always, the place exploded with fanfare and fervent excitement. JB cruised into his own driveway to tuck this show into the band’s legendary and extensive archive.
One final Milwaukee show remains on the schedule for tonight. With the band playing lights-out and living in an uncertain post-pandemic world, this one is obvious. Milwookie is the epicenter for greatness this weekend. NEVER MISS A SUNDAY SHOW!
Check out a gallery of photos from the show below courtesy of photographer Daniel Ojeda/PTG Live.
For a full list of upcoming Widespread Panic tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Riverside Theatre | Milwaukee, WI | 10/23/21
Set One: The Waker, Send Your Mind, Henry Parsons Died, Good People > Dark Bar > Good People, Diner, Jam, Ophelia > The Shape I’m In, Ain’t Life Grand (62 mins)
Set Two: Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi) > Driving Song > Disco > Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Red Hot Mama > I’m Not Alone > Driving Song, Greta > Up All Night, Flat Foot Flewzy (82 mins)
Encore: Stop Breakin’ Down Blues, Porch Song (14 mins)
Notes: ‘The Waker’ LTP 3/02/20 New York
– First time ‘The Waker’ has ever opened a show
– ‘Ophelia’ & ‘The Shape I’m In’ LTP 2/28/20 New York
– ‘Thin Ain (Smells Like Mississippi)’ LTP 6/08/19 Brandon, MS (51 shows)