The no-bullshit, blue jean-wearing swamp rockers of Widespread Panic, returned to the stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center in North Carolina on Friday guns a-blazing. With its sound honed in during Thursday night’s show, Panic cranked the volume and nearly blew the roof off the building in a continued celebration of the band’s 37th birthday earlier this week.
Rolling up its sleeves, Panic threw down fast and often; exemplified by the flurry of notes from JoJo Hermann’s organ and an avalanche of bass notes from Dave Schools’ corner interweaving into the introduction of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’”. It didn’t take long for Jimmy Herring to cut a nasty solo into the second show’s opener.
JoJo then slid over to his piano and took vocals for a bawdy rendition of “Blackout Blues”. After last call, Panic shoved through the swinging saloon doors and trudged down the familiar streets of “Time Zones”, co-written with Jerry Joseph. (“We’ll all be back tomorrow / just like today!”) Bloodkin’s “Can’t Get High” followed and led into a sequence of originals that comprised the remainder of the first set.
A dirty “Christmas Katie” emerged to confuse the folks that meant business. Jimmy Herring finally got tired of looking at the dead Christmas tree in the corner of the room and proceeded to drag the desiccated tree outside, dousing the dried branches in gasoline, and striking a match to officially declare the holidays over. His guitar licks spit fire and raised hell as the cool-hand band casually matched his lightning tempo.
An electrifying “Radio Child” displayed the true power of the band’s rigs before easing into a barefoot trek down the shady dirt road of “Stop-Go”. Without stopping, WSP led the Friday faithful through an inspiring sermon of “Pleas” until rolling into the bouncing seat and beat of “Love Tractor” to close out the first frame. Jimmy Herring was omnipresent throughout the second half of the set and left his mark on or between every measure.
Past the halfway point of the run and still picking up speed, Widespread Panic kicked open the door of the second set with a combustive “Little Kin”, rudely awakening the sleeping prince. After a brief pause, Duane Trucks introduced Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul”. JoJo slid around his kit, jumping from piano to organ throughout the performance.
While the lingering organ notes reverberated around the venue, JoJo redirected the music into a hard-hitting “You Got Yours”. After, the six-piece band slowed the pace down to recollect their thoughts during a calming “C. Brown” (“You can walk on home with me / you don’t even need to think a word / you don’t have to worry…”).
The originals flowed in succession as “Better Off” gave way to a determined “Papa’s Home”. The latter tune broke down to give Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz space to barrage and intertwine their respective rhythms until the four other band members jumped back into the mix to wallop the second half of the song.
After a meandering segue landed amidst War’s “Four Cornered Room”, John Bell captivated with his haunting vocals. The vibes got weird—in a freakishly good way—and Widespread lingered in the esoteric energy, briefly setting its crosshairs on Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”. Returning to the band’s well-known roots, the lively jams of “Conrad” coerced the audience to wiggle like caterpillar feet before a galloping “Action Man” closed out the second set with a photo finish.
Wrapping up the second night at DPAC, Widespread Panic encored with two covers. A tribute to legendary songwriter Willie Dixon came first with “Trail Dagger”, giving the Panics a chance to sink their teeth into what they do best, the muddiest of blues. During this, John Bell growled the warning, “Anytime you see a mighty wolf / waggin’ his tail / you know he done got somebody’s daughter!”
Widespread Panic concluded the second night with an appropriate tip-of-the-cap to fallen friend, Daniel Hutchens of Bloodkin, with a poignant performance of “End of the Show”. JB plucked his mandolin to make the finale extra special and cleaned up his vocals to assume a pristine quality and holy tone as easily as one might flip a light switch.
One final show lies ahead tonight, February 11th. Not too oft does a three-night run end on a Saturday but when Super Bowl Sunday follows the day after, it was the logical move for all parties. My final words will be consistent with JB’s final words—and echoing Daniel Hutchens: “Everybody’s waiting to find the last drink / the last word to say / the last place to go / the end of the show.”
Full audio of Friday’s show is available thanks to the Goodpeople of Panicstream.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Durham Performing Arts Center | Durham, NC | 2/10/23
Set One: Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Blackout Blues, Time Zones, Can’t Get High (Bloodkin), Christmas Katie > Radio Child, Stop-Go > Pleas > Love Tractor (65 mins)
Set Two: Little Kin, Mr. Soul (Neil Young) > You Got Yours, C Brown, Better Off, Papa’s Home > Drums > Papa’s Home > Four Cornered Room (War), Conrad > Action Man (90 mins)
Encore Tail Dragger (Willie Dixon), End of the Show (Bloodkin)* (13 mins)
Notes * w/ JB on mandolin
– ‘Machine Gun’ tease during ‘Four Cornered Room’