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Published: 2016/05/20
by Bill McAlaine

Widespread Panic, Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL- 5/5-7

For three nights in early May, Widespread Panic blew the roof off of the Windy City’s Chicago Theatre. The sold out run closed out Panic’s 30th anniversary spring tour. Fans from around the country, descended on the venue eager to hang out with old friends and a cherished band.

Thursday night started with the rare opening notes to “Sharon,” which found its way into the opening slot for the first time since 1986, and the mark was set as “Chilly Water>Henry Parsons>Chilly Water” came raging next. The second set was an epic “Driving Song” sandwich that held tight, rollicking versions, of “Dear Mr Fantasy” and the sandwich inside the sandwich, “Surprise Valley>Protein Drink>Sewing Machine> Surprise Valley.” A lovely and trance-like “Dream Song” drifted into the rambunctious “Tall Boy” to close out the first night, and disarmed the crowd for what still lay ahead.

After a beautiful spring day in Chicago that included, for many, a trip to Wrigley Field to see Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz” throw out the first pitch and lead the Cubs to a win, it was on to night two. Following the momentum of the previous evening, the band seemed to maintain a theme of peppering heavy hitter tunes often only seen once a tour, throughout the sets. In the opening frame, this included the funky “Use Me” and the Vic Chesnutt gem, “Expiration Day.” Similarly, the second set offered the beloved “Don’t Be Denied” and a nasty “Bowlegged Woman.” The drums and bass segment of the show was particularly memorable, as Sunny, Duane Trucks and Dave Schools showcased their ability to intertwine their distinctive sounds. A smooth and subtle “Nobody’s Loss” segued into the heart stopping “Mr. Soul” to close out the evening.

Despite all that had come before, in my opinion the third night was the best of the weekend. The band made a statement in more than one way by opening with “Let’s Get Down to Business.” Other first set highlights included the elusive “Last Straw,” a notable “Porch Song” and impeccable versions of the Band’s “Ophelia” into “Shape I’m In.” The gem of the first set, and worth the price of admission alone, came when the group brought out old friend Jerry Joseph for his “North” before a well-deserved set break.

With just enough time to catch our breath the lights went down and the opening notes of “Greta” kicked things off, for the final set of the weekend. There was no stopping the train, as a powerhouse “Proving Ground>Cream Puff War> Proving Ground” led into vintage classics “Disco>Pilgrims,” followed by Schools paying homage once again to the late great Vic Chesnutt, with the ominous “Blight.” This led into the dirty beats of “Fishwater” rolling into drums that soon spiraled into an absurdly wild version of “Life During Wartime” and then back into “Fishwater.” Just when I was sure this would end the set, guitarist Jimmy Herring let loose on the opening notes of “Postcard,” with John Bell feeling the Chicago vibe, and belting out “Chicago’s nuts, my kind of town, I don’t wanna leave, never ever wanna leave.” An absolute barn burner.

The crowd showed its decibel-shattering appreciation as the band returned for its final encore of the weekend. The highly sought after “Gradle” appeared for the first time with Duane Trucks on drums, followed by a furious “All Time Low” and a most fitting “Can’t Find My Way Home” to cap off another insane Chicago run and a perfect end to the spring tour.

Happy 30th Widespread Panic, and thanks for all you give us!

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