Widespread Panic, Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA – 9/16
Widespread Panic just kicked off their massive fall tour last week with two well-received shows in Boston, MA. With a tour light on northeast dates, and focused more on their primary stomping grounds in the southeast, the boys came to play at the historic Orpheum Theater in Boston. Since Panic has announced their hiatus, which will begin after an unmatched run of special shows in Mexico this winter, the fire from their 25th year of playing as a band has only got stronger. Bringing their A-game to Boston, Panic left many show attendees figuring out last minute plans to try and make it down to New York for their Saturday show in Brooklyn.
Friday’s first set got off to a solid start with a nice segue of “Imitation Leather Shoes” into a high energy take on “Who Do You Belong To?” “Proving Ground” followed, which bled right into a newer tune from the band’s most recent album, “Cotton Was King.” Nothing too crazy came from these first four songs, but they were played well, and the crowd was definitely hanging on every note. “Little Lilly” was up next, which was followed by the fan favorite “Walkin’” and another take at a newer song in “Angels on High”.
While the band seemed to be having fun on stage, the classic style of Panic that’s as textured and layered in their playing as any band out there today was clearly seen in the funky rhythms of keyboardist JoJo Herman, guitar hero Jimmy Herring, and the deep bass of David Schools. The first set had been flowing quite well up until this point in the show, that is until the boys brought out Trombone Shorty, who had been warming up the Boston crowd prior to Panic’s sets on both nights.
Not only were the final two songs of the first set the highlight of the initial offering from Widespread on this evening, but the segue of “Rebirtha” into “Blackout Blues” was one of the stronger chunks of Widespread Panic music this reviewer has seen in some time. Ever thankful for what Jimmy has brought to the band, and always aware of the old magic consistently brought to every show by fallen founder Mikey Houser, it’s that extra special something that’s sometimes necessary these days for a Panic show to go above and beyond. This evening’s dose came straight from New Orleans, and all that needs to be said is Trombone Shorty rips. He not only tore through several solo opportunities the band stepped back to let him play on, but the crowd went absolutely nuts when he went for it. This is for surely a piece of music worth going back to listen to if you haven’t heard it yet; pure horns-infused ‘WSMFP’ magic.
After a great first set, and the third of four Boston sets behind them, expectations were high for set two. Thankfully, Panic did not disappoint. When lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist John Bell stepped to the stage with his mandolin, “Ain’t Life Grand” picked up the energy from where Trombone Shorty and the boys had left off after set one. A perfectly played instrumental in “Party at Your Mama’s House” followed, which flowed right into “Flicker,” a nice free-from jam, and finally a “Blue Indian” before the band took a second to catch their collective breath.
Although the end of the first set was an absolute highlight, the final four selections, as well as a drums segment, reminded us all that it’s hard to find a tighter rock and roll show on tour today than Widespread Panic.
With Trombone Shorty back out for the seldom played cover “Pusherman,” the rest of the set felt like a cohesive tapestry, showcasing excellent chord progressions, deep jams, and soaring highpoints. Percussionists Todd Nance and “Sonny” Ortiz laid an extremely danceable groove during a “Drums” jam flowing out of “Pusherman,” before Jimmy Herring set the Orpheum ablaze with “Action Man.” Making sure the crowd had gotten their fill, as for many fans in attendance, this might be their last Panic show for who knows how long, the notes to the great blues standard, and old Grateful Dead cover “Good Morning Little School Girl” filled the venue to the delight of all. Finally, perhaps the most classic Panic tune, if there is such a thing, “Chilly Water” closed the set with water bottles emptying everywhere, and Orpheum staff members unable to contain the crowd from filling up walkways and just about any available space to dance at the venue. The all-out free-for-all felt good, and even the staffers seemed to look on with envy at this point.
A double encore of “Expiration Day” coupled with the Jerry Joseph tune “Climb to Safety” sent the Boston crowd out into the warm New England night. All in all it was a great night in Boston, especially for a band that continues to leave it all on the stage after more than 25 years of playing music together. These were a great couple of shows to open up Panic’s last real tour for a while, and a great way to send a message to all their fans that they’re in for some really special nights over the next several weeks.