With the Widespread Panic community cut loose in Milwaukee for the entire weekend, even the “Brew City” was unprepared as stocks of kegs were drained to the dregs. The insatiable army of vagrants migrated toward the Wisconsin city’s Riverside Theater for one last night of music before the Panic circus prepares for its next stop with a Halloween extravaganza in the voodoo swamps of New Orleans next weekend.
Digging down to their roots, Widespread Panic unearthed an old blues standard “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” to commence Sunday Service. JB’s gravelly vocals were doggone-dirty to epitomize the raunchy tone of the 1937 Sonny Boy Williamson tune. Jimmy Herring’s guitar hung around suspended in mid-air before Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz jumped in to hammer home the introduction of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” for back-to-back covers.
After giving Herring and JoJo Hermann room to roam as a multitude of notes from their respective instruments cascaded down like a torrential waterfall, the six-piece rock outfit slathered the jam all over their instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House”. The speed was cranked to Doc Brown proportions until Dave Schools slammed his foot down on the brakes to demand some tasty “Ribs N’ Whiskey” licks. The hungry crowd scarfed down hearty portions of JB’s saucy vocals and Schools’ spicy beat, and even went back for seconds along with JoJo’s crispy piano and Herring’s mellow marinades.
“Pickin’ Up the Pieces” from 1994’s Everyday kept the originals flowing as a sizzling pairing of classics, “Machine” into “Barstools” followed to comprise the juiciest pulp of the first set. The “Barstools and Dreamers” was especially cosmic and prompts the questioning of the presence of psychedelics amongst the tumbler’s contents. A percussive “Rock” off the band’s 1991 self-titled second album bled into the organ introduction of Jerry Joseph and Glenn Esparza’s uplifting anthem “Climb to Safety” to close the first set with tremendous energy. “And you know as well as I do it’s no fun to die alone!”
To open the second set, Widespread dusted off “From the Cradle”, a staple from the previous decade. This marked the first time Duane Trucks has played this tune, which has only appeared on a setlist twice in the last five years. The audience shook off the initial shock to bring their zealous energy to begin the second set in an uproar. JB was on point, as per usual. The evolutionary “Conrad” preceded another hard-hitting flight through “Saint Ex”, combining for nearly twenty minutes of scorching riffs. “Saint Ex”’s build-up and break down of tempo and intensity was based on the incredible story of a German pilot shooting down his favorite author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry–of The Little Prince notoriety–in World War II. Herring was transcendent in his smooth conversion of an airplane “dogfight” and soft landing onto his guitar’s fretboard.
A beloved and rare “Jaded Tourist” featured slick vocal work from both JoJo’s lead and John Bell’s chorale harmonization. A bass-heavy rendition of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’” followed with Schools coaxing the music further and further down the rabbit hole. When the band reappeared from this wondrous wormhole ride, J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High” was all that remained.
After Herring’s guitar and JoJo’s clavinet wove intricate melodies through the song’s framework, the band sauntered offstage to give Trucks and Ortiz a chance to settle their differences. As Duane and Sonny’s patters faded, a resurgence of percussion introduced a heavy “Proving Ground” for yet another badass original from the band’s earliest days.
Past the point of no return, Widespread Panic executed a lively cover of “I’m So Glad”. Though the song has unknown origins, it has been recorded by Skip James, Cream, Traffic, and more, in addition to serving as a live staple for the band’s late mentor, Col. Bruce Hampton. Hermann and Herring made the song their own with their incredible respective performances.
The band carved a robust “Fishwater” like a makeshift raft to float down to New Orleans on the wild Mississippi River to close out the second set in lyrically-appropriate fashion. The song, one of Panic’s staples–whistle or not–possessed not only the energy of a New Orleans’ street parade, but also the appropriate, opening lyrics, “Four train days / Get me back to New Orleans!” With the band scheduled to kick off their Halloween run at the Uno Lakefront Arena on Thursday, October 31st in four days’ time, this song as a set closer symbolically readied the audience to leave cold and hoppy Milwaukee for a swampy, voodoo gambol around New Orleans.
Returning for encore, Widespread Panic played a rare “Down on the Farm” as a touching tribute to recently deceased guitarist Paul Barrere of Little Feat who passed away over the weekend. Though the band covered this earlier this year at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphieathre, it had been kept away on the shelf for almost a decade prior. Last night’s performance had a respectful and serious tone to the merry and zany song. To conclude 2019’s ‘Milwookie’ run, the Panic blazed the way through another all-time favorite with the rhetorical question “Ain’t Life Grand?”.
Watch the band’s encore performances of “Down On The Farm” and “Ain’t Life Grand” from Sunday below.
Widespread Panic – “Down On The Farm” – 10/27/19
[Video: Eric Nelson]
Widespread Panic – “Ain’t Life Grand” – 10/27/19
[Video: Eric Nelson]
The festivities continue throughout Sunday night but soon migrate south to New Orleans for an early three day run starting on Halloween Thursday on short rest. Just like the Nashville run, or any other Widespread Weekend for that matter, this next one at Uno Lakefront Arena will be a can’t miss. Be there–couch or otherwise–as the boys pull rabbits out their hats and aces from their sleeves in what will surely be the wackiest and spookiest weekend of the year.
Head to the band’s website for tickets and tour info for their upcoming performances.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Riverside Theater | Milwaukee, WI | 10/27/19
Set One: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Sonny Boy Williamson cover) > Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover), Party At Your Mamas House > Ribs and Whiskey, Pickin’ Up The Pieces > Machine > Barstools and Dreamers, Rock > Climb To Safety (Jerry Joseph cover)
Set 2 From the Cradle^, Conrad, Saint Ex, Jaded Tourist, Bear’s Gone Fishin’* > Ride Me High (J.J. Cale cover) > Drums > Proving Ground, I’m So Glad (Skip James voer), Fishwater
Encore Down On The Farm$, Ain’t Life Grand
^ First time place since 2/02/16 (Gap of 179 shows); First time with Duane
* “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd tease after ‘Bear’s Gone Fishin”
$ “Down On The Farm” tribute to Paul Barrere