Widespread Panic paid tribute to co-founding guitarist and namesake Michael Houser on the 20th anniversary of his death last night in Atlanta. The sextet focused Wednesday’s setlist solely on songs from the Houser era with one exception to kick off a four-night stand at the Fox Theatre and took the stage after audio from Mikey was played on the venue’s speakers.
The shows were originally scheduled as a four-night New Year’s Run spanning December 28 – 31, 2021 but were postponed due to a spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant. Houser’s voice rang out over the p.a. as the curtain went up. “It’s our music. It comes from us, I don’t know anything else to say but that. We do it because it’s all we can do, pretty much,” Mikey said in a quote taken from the Billy Bob Thornton-directed Widespread Panic concert film/documentary Live At The Georgia Theatre originally released in 1992.
Balloons fell from the ceiling of the Fox in a nod to the delayed New Year’s Eve run while Panic lit into the beloved “Porch Song.” The opener bled into a rousing “Love Tractor” before the band embarked on a seamless sequence in which they connected the tender “Aunt Avis,” a bubbling “Little Lilly,” an adventurous “Diner” and JoJo Hermann showcase “1 x 1.” Last night’s “Diner” spanned nearly 18 minutes and saw WSP blow past the song’s typical structure for an ambient bit of improvisation.
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Guitarist/vocalist John Bell led the group through “Proving Ground” next with drummer Duane Trucks providing the shuffling beat at the heart of the song and lead guitarist Jimmy Herring fronting a build to a massive climax. Widespread Panic went on to end the first of two old school sets with a standalone “Papa’s Home.”
The first “Mercy” to open a second set got the backhalf of the evening underway and birthed a lengthy jam. Herring strung together one powerful riff after another before the segment closed as members of the band coughed into the mics. From there, WSP launched into their first cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” since last summer’s Red Rocks run. The band then tore through Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” and played the reggae-tinged “Sleepy Monkey.” More classics followed as “Holden Oversoul” dropped into “Pleas” which led into an extended “Vacation” filled with Herring’s fretboard fireworks. The six-piece closed the frame by pairing “Wondering” and “Ain’t Life Grand.”
Panic returned to the stage to start the three-song encore with the fitting “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” the evening’s lone song debuted after Houser’s death. A big surprise came next as “Galleon” was dusted off for the first time since June 25, 2017 — a span of 158 shows. WSP said farewell with fan favorite “Fishwater.” The run continues tonight at The Fox.
Stream audio featuring the start of last night’s show and watch fan-shot “Sweet Leaf” video below:
Setlist (via PanicStream.com)
Set One: Porch Song, Love Tractor, Aunt Avis, Little Lilly, Diner > 1 x 1, Proving Ground, Papa’s Home (70 mins)
Set Two: Mercy > Jam > Sweet Leaf, Mr Soul, Sleepy Monkey, Holden Oversoul > Pleas > Vacation, Wondering > Ain’t Life Grand (74 mins)
Encore: Don’t Wanna Lose You, Galleon > Fishwater (23 mins)
- – Mikey speaking intro and balloon drop during ‘Porch Song’
- – First time ‘Mercy’ has opened a 2nd set
- – ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ tease during ‘Mercy’
- – ‘Sweet Leaf’ LTP 6/26/21 Red Rocks (51 shows)
- – ‘Galleon’ LTP 6/25/17 Red Rocks (158 shows)
- – Entire show with Edie Jackson (ASL interpreter)