Widespread Panic celebrated Halloween in New Orleans on Thursday night, welcoming guests like original Meters bassist George Porter Jr. and R.E.M. multi-instrumentalist Mike Mills, as well as nodding to late comedian/rabble-rouser Andy Kaufman.
Porter made his appearance early, opening the show alongside WSP with two Meters favorites, “Chicken Strut” and “Hey Pocky Way.” (Those two cuts were also WSP live debuts)
Afterwards, WSP kept the NOLA vibe going with the voodoo-inspired “Papa Legba.”
As hinted by the band’s costumes, the evening seemed to pay tribute to Kaufman, with each member dressing as a different version of the comedian (As per Panicstream.com, John Bell was Kaufman as Elvis on The Tonight Show/Letterman, Dave Schools was Kaufman as bus boy at Cafe du Monde, Jimmy Herring was Kaufman at Carnegie Hall for his Christmas Spectacular, Sunny Ortiz was Kaufman doing stand-up at Comedy Store, JoJo Hermann was Laufman as Latka Gravas on Taxi and Duane Trucks was Kaufman as the women’s wrestling champion of the world.)
Set one was punctuated by rockers like “One Arm Steve,” “Love Tractor,” “Hatfield” and “All Time Low.” The half ended with the band’s first “Knocking ‘Round The Zoo” since Jazz Fest 2017 (show gap 94).
The jams (and Kaufman references) continued during set two, as Sunny Ortiz sang along to the Mighty Mouse theme before WSP jumped into an opening “Henry Parsons Died” followed by a massive “Surprise Valley”> “Jam”> “Arleen”> “Surprise Valley” segment. It was during this portion of the show that an unidentified Andy Kaufman could be seen eating dinner sidestage.
Later, WSP served up their first “Spoonful” since 2014, followed by a standout “Tall Boy” jam that had the entire sold-out arena singing along.
Bringing another layer of excitement was fellow Athens, Ga. denizen Mike Mills of R.E.M. who jammed with the band on three debuts and even rotated instruments. “Our friend Mr. Mike Mills!” Bell exclaimed as the multi-instrumentalist took the stage to perform Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” on keys, David Bowie’s “Starman” on guitar/vocals and R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” on bass/vocals. That final tune was written for the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic of the same name, and was accompanied by video clips of Kaufman projected overhead.
The show closed with a fast-paced “Porch Song,” but WSP still had a trick or two up their sleeve, with Schools taking on vocal duties for a tongue-in-cheek version of Kaufman’s “I Trusted You” accompanied by Mills on guitar, Trucks on bass and Ortiz on drum kit.
Mills stuck around to play guitar and sing on “This Friendly World,” but the best (and most confusing) part of the evening was yet to come as tour manager Steve Lopez warned the crowd to stop smoking and welcomed chain-smoking Kaufman alter-ego Tony Clifton to the stage. (The notoriously rude, lounge-singing Clifton was played by Hermann as a bass tech played keys in his place.)
Clifton didn’t last long, however, singing “Volare” and “Tacos” (the band’s first since 1995) before a water-throwing fan (perhaps planned all along) ran him off stage and ended the show.
Afterwards, WSP played along with the (presumably fake) gag and tweeted, “We apologize for the unfortunate event that took place at the end of tonight’s show. We will get to the bottom of this for you. Sorry once again to our fans and family. Please enjoy the weekend and see you Friday and Saturday! Happy Halloween. Widespread Panic.”
Widespread Panic continue their NOLA run at the Lakefront Arena on Friday, Nov. 1.
Check out the full setlist below:
UNO Lakefront Arena, New Orleans
Set I: Chicken Strut*#, Hey Pocky Way*#, Papa Legba, One Arm Steve, Love Tractor, Hatfield, All Time Low, Pilgrims, Knocking ‘Round The Zoo^
Set II: Henry Parsons Died, Surprise Valley > Jam > Arleen > Surprise Valley, Old Neighborhood, Holden Oversoul, Spoonful+, Tall Boy, Perfect Day%#, Starman%%#, Man On The Moon%%%#, Porch Song
Enc: I Trusted [email protected], This Friendly World%%, Volare&, Tacos&$
*with George Porter Jr.
^last played 5/04/17 Jazz Fest (94 shows)
+last played 10/08/14 Montgomery (271 shows)
% with Mike Mills on keys
%% with Mike Mills on guitar/vox
%%% with Mike Mills on bass/vox
@Mills on guitar; Trucks on bass and Ortiz on drum kit
& JoJo Hermann as Tony Clifton
$last played 9/22/95 Oxford (1,799 shows)