reCAP: Widespread Panic :: The Capitol Theatre :: 2019.03.22 - 2019.03.24

Mar 25  / Monday
Words by Chad Berndtson Photos by Marc Millman, Andrew Scott Blackstein, and Dino Perrucci

The great Widespread Panic picks its spots these days in a limited but still functional tour schedule, and it seemed only a matter of time before they’d set one of their now-customary multi-night stands here at the venerable Cap. But was this panoramic past Friday, Saturday and Sunday really the band’s first visits here since — whoa — 1992? And technically, their first ever Capitol Theatre headline shows?

Yes and yes. And man, did they make ‘em count.

Panic’s had a lot of water under the proverbial bridge; any band that’s been doing this for 34 years with even half its creative consistency would. But the fundamentals of folksy, jammy, blues-goosed rock ’n’ roll have never left it, and neither has the urge to get down to business with ruthless efficiency. Theirs is a chooglin’ band, and when they’re on a tear, with the throttling percussion, the runaway train of rhythm, the soaring guitar flights, canvas-slicing keyboards, and those ribs-n-whiskey John Bell vocals, there are (still) few better highs in jam-dom. And after two and a half years without a proper New York City-area show, you knew they’d come hot and heavy.

Three nights — ending with an all-important, you-know-what-they-say-about-not-missing-it Sunday show — means a lot of moods, a lot of flavors, a lot of ideas, and a lot of room to stretch out. Would it feel like three distinct shows, thematically or otherwise? Or would the weekend feel more like six sets of a piece? The answer was the latter. Panic built momentum early, varied its fiery, Jimmy Herring-led peaks and comedowns, and put us away with a slam-bang, monster-encore Sunday finale that made Friday’s punchy opener feel like it had taken place months earlier. Panic has the multi-night-stand residency format down; if you can adventurously invest in multiple nights, you’re rewarded with a lot of varying payoffs, and a reminder of the depth and sturdiness of their catalog.

Friday’s opener was the “stick a fork in the work week” show, announcing itself with Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and coalescing around big, chunky groovers and fist-pumpers like “Henry Parsons Died” and “Conrad,” the latter set up by an old-school “B of D” jam. Set two also favored anthemic peaks, from “Blackout Blues” and “Party At Your Mama’s House” to crowd favorites like “Ribs and Whiskey,” “Fishwater” and a late-set “Slippin Into Darkness.” Newer Panic staples like “Steven’s Cat” snuck in, but this felt like a night for longtime comforts; “Travelin’ Light,” “Pilgrims” and a sparky “Red Hot Mama” closed it up.

Saturday’s show kaleidoscope’d all over the place while holding on to darker tones; early on, Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” and then “Hope in a Hopeless World” had that ominous energy, and later, it appeared in “Saint Ex,” “You Should Be Glad,” “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” and a particularly Saturday-night-nasty “Chilly Water.” In between came Panic pillars: “Barstools and Dreamers,” with its classic “Machine” pairing, the stabby “Hatfield,” working its way into a soaring “Ride Me High,” and the frenetic “Action Man” sandwiched by “Bowlegged Woman.” The Vic Chesnutt/Dave Schools collaboration “Puppy Sleeps” and a dependably boogieing “Flat Foot Flewzy” sent everyone home sweaty and smiling.

It was Sunday, however, that kicked into the weekend’s highest gear, finding an old school Panic energy once more with a “Holden Oversoul > Makes Sense to Me” opener and sustaining through payoff after payoff of Panic gems. This was a true “throw a dart anywhere and find a winner” Widespread Panic show: how about the mesmerizing, Herring-led shift from “Airplane” into “Jaded Tourist,” or the hyper-jittery “Life During Wartime,” doing Talking Heads proud, or Set 2’s slam into Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money” right out of the gate, or Dave Schools owning the room on a filthy-shuffling “One Kind Favor”? The band didn’t stop for what seemed like a second’s breath, rounding off the sixth set of the weekend with big-wheel Panic tunes like “Bust It Big,” “Postcard” and “Ain’t Life Grand.”

With emotions high, the band turned in what felt like a seventh set: a half-hour-long encore that started with “This Part of Town,” snuck the jammy “Disco” into Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” and closed out with the traditional “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” pairing by way of The Guess Who that Panic’s been playing since its earliest days.

You could pick your favorite individual moments from the weekend — that Herring/Schools duo jam in the middle of “Bust It Big” comes to mind for this writer; or that charming little “Other One” jam coming out of “Mercy”; or “Low Spark > Disco” — and you wouldn’t be wrong.

Bet they’ll be back. What do you say, boys?

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