Although I didn’t make it down to the Riverside Theater last Thursday night in Milwaukee to see John Bell, Jimmy Herring, JoJo Hermann, Sunny Ortiz, Todd Nance and Dave Schools, otherwise known collectively as Widespread Panic, the live stream sounded great. The band wrapped up their three days in Brew City last night Sept 28. I took a moment to read Piet Levy’s wildly inaccurate misrepresentation of the Sept 26 show and I have to say, that guy is a blight to the Journal Sentinel and journalism in Milwaukee. I apologize to the band, the crew and all the hard working people who made an effort to support another perfect three day run at the Riverside Theater, for Levy’s poor attitude, but if you know anything about his style of criticism he’s a one trick pony who loves to hate the vast majority of the bands he is sent to review. Levy is a disservice to Milwaukee and we’ll be a better city when he’s no longer paid to insult the musical guests that come to our venues to entertain us. Levy tries to be Lester Bangs but lacks the real insight, depth and intuitive reasoning that made Bangs’ cynical views interesting to read.
That being said, Friday night Sept 27 was a scorching show full of surprises and plot twists that are par for the course over a three day experience. Set lists are a subjective experience for fans, and therein lies the beauty of a band like Widespread Panic. With such a massive catalog and two sets spread out over almost 3 hours there’s plenty of opportunity for even a casual fan to have some of their favorite songs played. The slow build up that started on Thursday with classics such as “Driving Song” and “Makes Sense To Me” started to really bubble hot on Friday night with spirited renditions of “Love Tractor,” featuring some thought provoking bass runs from Dave Schools, “Tall Boy” and “Space Wrangler.” Jerry Joseph and Wally Ingram made a high energy guest appearance for “Light Is Like Water” and “Arleen,” during which minds were blown by the intensity that Joseph and Ingram brought to the table. After a soulful “Papa’s Home” that led way to a rollicking “Red Hot Mama,” the last song of the night was an emotionally stirring “Porch Song” that bonded the band and crowd into one entity before being sent off into the crisp Milwaukee night.
No stranger to the task of a three day run, Panic set themselves and the fans up for a Saturday night Sept 28 closing concert that boiled hot and bubbled over, at times seemingly out of control in the best of ways. Opening the show with “Postcard,” Panic handed in a first set full of highlight reel worthy material including “Surprise Valley,” “Blue Indian,” “Can’t Get High,” and the classic “Spoonful.” Nothing, however, really prepared me for the second set, which fulfilled the promise of an “Epic conclusion,” that was promised via the band’s Twitter account. A jam heavy “Pigeons” led by a determined and fierce Schools followed the “Thought Sausage” set opener, and from that point forward Herring let loose unleashing one lingering lead after another. JoJo danced around his keys with empathy, fueled no doubt by the sold out crowd’s vibe, while Todd and Sunny drove the beat to it’s peak and beyond. John Bell’s vocals and guitar layered in the mix like soothing honey, and his inflection on songs like “Up All Night,” “All Time Low,” and “Rebirtha” simply solidified his role of 27 years as one of the ultimate and premier singers in the music industry.
What no one expected Saturday night was the Dire Straits cover of “Sultans Of Swing” that took place near the end of the second set. It was nearly 7 minutes of pure bliss and was epic in every sense of the term. If you don’t believe me you can hear for yourself at Panic’s website where all three nights of the Riverside Theater run are now up for sale. Widespread Panic Fall Tour continues, you can check out the tour dates at their site for more information about where to catch them next.