Atlanta, GA’s Fox Theatre staff barely had time to restore the venue back to its glorious natural state, before the rowdy Widespread Panic crowd shuffled inside to once again transform the legendary theater into a modern-day battlefield. As the sold-out venue hosted an action-packed performance the night prior, hardly a soul was seated in “blind anticipation” on the second night of this momentous New Year’s run.
Widespread Panic took the stage starting casually with a slow-tempoed “Porch Song” to the wild approval of the awaiting audience. JoJo Hermann’s keys and voice took over for a spectacular cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Chunk of Coal”, which hasn’t been played since the first night of the 2016 New Year’s run at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Dave Schools bounced merrily around JoJo’s pristine piano sounds.
Maintaining the holiday spirit, the boys aced a progressively building “Christmas Katie”, which besides the title contains the lyrics “Jingle bells, electric lights” as well as “They’re Dancers, and Blitzens, and angels on high.” A blazin’ “Action Man” whipped the audience into a frenzy, before resettling into the end of “Christmas Katie” with an extra jam section. The intensity knob was cranked to full throttle as “Radio Child”—in the words of John Bell—absolutely “ELECTRIFIED!” Jimmy Herring was unleashing a cataclysmic energy with a speed and fury unforeseen even in the ancient elder scrolls that told of his days as a young wizard.
The tempo subsided momentarily for John Bell to captivate with a sentimental “Gradle”, before the band lit the stage on fire with a traditional barn-burning conclusion to the first set with three crowd-favorite originals. JoJo Hermann was a man possessed throughout the next two songs. “Cotton Was King” continued the end of the first set’s festivities, with the exalting jubilee of build-ups and breakdowns, as well as the lyrics acclaiming that, “Every night is New Year’s Eve!”
JoJo continued to dominate the acoustic with an upbeat “Big Wooly Mammoth”, as Dave Schools pummeled out his bottom end notes. To close the first set, the boys dropped right into “Love Tractor”, more affectionately known as “Fuck Truck”. The band departed the stage as the ushers and theater staff ran to the designated fire extinguisher locations in a chaotic hassle to try to put out all the spreading fires. During the setbreak, a city engineer was called in to ensure the structural integrity could withstand so many people jumping up and down at once.
After confirming with the engineer that the venue’s structural integrity remained intact, the boys strolled back on stage to nail a sexy “Hatfield”, with Sonny Ortiz leading the tune with his drum kit. John Bell bounced back and forth between wild lunacy and incredible lucidity, with his passionate improvised lyrics describing his childhood and growing up with the rainmaker Charlie Hatfield.
Keeping the original classics rolling, the band nailed a complete “Surprise Valley” before segueing into the dizzying musical maelstrom that is “Tie Your Shoes.” Another smooth transition led into an ethereal “Blue Indian”. The boisterous crowd chanted in harmony during the breakdown, “We gotta party goin’ on, many spirits strong!” A short pause gave the audience time to collect themselves before the opening notes to “Rebirtha” whipped them once more into a ravenous frenzy. The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” emerged as a tease that eventually led into a savory “Ribs & Whiskey”. Dave Schools satisfied all the hungry ears with his metronomic bass riffs, while JoJo’s fingers danced all over his piano.
Widespread Panic – “Ball Of Confusion” Jam
Schools continued to dominate leading the musicians through an aggressive version of Vic Chestnutt’s “Sleeping Man” with his howling vocals. Jerry Joseph’s heartwarming song of brotherhood “Climb to Safety” was executed flawlessly before a bawdy “Tall Boy” closed the second set. Returning for their encore, Widespread Panic kept the original tunes flowing, with a mellow “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” from Everyday. Duane Trucks introduced the saw-blade cutter “Provin’ Ground” from the band’s second album, in which a spirited John Bell mystified. The intensity built to a climax with an unstoppable Jimmy Herring, which left many audience members frozen in stone until hours after the show ended.
To end the second night of heat, the Panics concluded the show in the same way that they opened with a “Porch Song” from their debut album. The jam was intensified with a faster tempo, and marked the first time that the song was done twice in its entirety during the same show. The combination is now being commonly referred to as “Front Porch / Back Porch”.
Widespread Panic – “Proving Ground”
With three sets en route for tonight’s New Year’s Eve celebration, who knows what lies in store for the greatest band on the dang ol’ planet. (and considering the situation, finest band on the moon as well). The grand finale lies ahead, stay safe good people as the next gunna be the best one of the year!
Head to Widespread Panic’s website for a full list of upcoming tour dates and ticketing information
Setlist: Widespread Panic | The Fox Theatre | Atlanta, GA | 12/30/2018
Set One: (Front) Porch Song > Chunk of Coal, Christmas Katie > Action Man > Christmas Katie > Radio Child, Gradle, Cotton Was King, Big Wooly Mammoth > Love Tractor
Set Two: Hatfield, Surprise Valley > Tie Your Shoes > Blue Indian, Rebirtha > Jam > Ribs & Whiskey, Sleeping Man, Climb To Safety, Tall Boy
Encore Pickin’ Up The Pieces > Proving Ground > (Back) Porch Song
Notes – First time ‘Porch Song’ has been played twice in entirety at same show; Opener was the slow version
– ‘Chunk of Coal’ LTP 12/29/16 Ryman (106 shows)
– ‘Ball of Confusion’ jam out of ‘Rebirtha’