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Widespread Panic Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee, WI- 9/26

Since regrouping after a brief hiatus, Widespread Panic traveled all over the country with lengthy tours over both the spring and fall seasons. Rather than staying off the bus until their annual New Years Eve show, the Georgia natives hit the road once again for what is to be another strong set of tour dates, this time in the fall. Though the band had played a few fall tour-stops before heading up north to Milwaukee, WI, September 26 marked the first of two, three-night concert runs that the group will participate over the course of their impressive string of fall dates.

On the cool, late-September night of the 26th, Panic fans descended on downtown Milwaukee to the Riverside Theatre, the same site where the jamband veterans hosted a similarly styled three-night run just a couple years prior.

To kick-off Panic’s weekend stay in the Wisconsin city, the group opened the show with “Old Neighborhood,” a song that the band played tightly which got the nearly sold out crowd moving from the first song.

Following “Old Neighborhood,” the band performed the two upbeat pieces of “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” and “Little Kin,” pleasing the crowd with some high-energy songs right out of the gates. In between the two, Panic played the psychedelic number, “Travelin’ Light,” which showcased the excellent musicianship between guitarist Jimmy Herring and keyboardist JoJo Hermann, as Herring’s guitar and JoJo’s keys played off each other in great fashion.

In terms of the crowd’s movement, “Dyin’ Man” was arguably the most rowdy song played over the course of night—getting the already lively crowd dancing in every direction. This turned the vocals over from John Bell’s legendary growl to JoJo’s easily recognizable voice, which was followed by “Clinic Cynic” where Drummer Todd Nance gave his major vocal performance. With the Dirty Side Down song being more of a mellow, stripped-down tune, it set up for a perfect atmosphere for the following number, “Blight,” where bassist Dave Schools would then take his role as lead singer.

Any Panic fan knows that Blight is a one of a kind song with its eerie intro then epic progression, and the group no doubt did their composition justice in Milwaukee. As the song continued to gain steam, both in the musical build up and the crowd’s response, Herring unleashed an epic solo while Bell and Schools backed with excellent rhythm. As Herring and Schools ripped through the song, Nance and percussionist Sunny Ortiz carried the group to a spacey, jazz-esq jam before the ten plus minute song concluded.

Widespread next dove into the beautiful composition that is “Driving Song” with opening chords that anyone in the jam scene can recognize. One of the highlights of the night came in “Low Spark High Heeled Boys” a number jammed in between “Driving Song.” The tune itself featured excellent, mid-song improvisation and once again showed the great collaboration between Herring’s guitar and JoJo’s keys. While JoJo and Herring traded off well-partnered solos, Sunny’s bongo playing gave an additional special sound to the jam as Bell’s growl roared throughout the venue. After playing back into the conclusion of “Driving Song,” the band ended set one with a cover of Pop Staples’ “Hope in a Hopeless World.” This is a song that Panic have made their own and one where Bell’s vocals truly bring the already powerful lyrics to life.

Even though the weekend was still another day away, the Milwaukee crowd certainly didn’t keep from letting loose as the people in the front row were moving just as much as the people in the last row in the upper deck. The crowd not only featured Wisconsin locals but people from all over the country, Spreadheads who drove hundreds of miles to follow their beloved band from Athens, Georgia.

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