Panic! At the Disco
April 1, 2017
In 2006, when I was a junior in high school, Panic! At the Disco appeared on the scene with guns a-blazing as their hit single, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” shot them into overnight success. I can still remember the music video, in which Brendon Urie’s knowing grin reached out from underneath thick black eyeliner, a top hat and a pair of white gloves, to be met by nothing more than an eye-roll.
You see, as emo’s second wave neared its end, bands of that saturated genre were known for having a sort of pissing contest with their song titles, which read like full-fledged statements. By the time Panic! At the Disco came around, I was over it.
If I’m being honest, there were just so many things about the band that I didn’t like: their album cover, their song titles or the way that it felt like they were a watered-down version of Fall Out Boy, a band that I was never all that interested in to begin with. I always felt that there was something disingenuous about them.
Of course, that was then, and this is now.
On Saturday, Panic! At the Disco brought their “Death of a Bachelor” tour to Houston’s Toyota Center, where a nearly sold-out crowd was excitedly awaiting their performance. Watching their stage being prepared, all I could think about was how surreal it felt. For one, their simple stage setup was reminiscent of a small club, with three microphones lining the monitors, while a drum kit sat high on its own elevated riser and two shorter risers flanked each side.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d see Panic! At the Disco perform at the Toyota Center, and in a way, their setup almost claimed the same thing — “How did we get here?” I watched in amusement as kids half my age used their phone flashlights to dance with one another in synchronicity from across the stadium. All the while, a large screen behind the drum kit displayed a vault door with a clock on it, set to count down the final moments before the band would appear.
With a minute left to spare, everyone in the room stood on their feet before the group appeared among a blast of golden streamers. Shrill screeching filled the room as they launched into Death of a Bachelor's "Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” which sounds like the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” took a drag off a joint and got mixed up with a rock-hop producer.
As they seamlessly flowed into their next song, “LA Devotee,” I will admit I made note of the fact that Urie hasn’t changed much, as I took in his polished look composed of a golden blazer layered over a black tunic-length T-shirt and black leather pants. Urie, who remains the band’s only original member, performs alongside a six-piece touring band, which includes guitar, bass and drums, as well as a three-piece brass section. However, as they pushed through more and more of their tracks — such as “Ready to Go,” “Golden Days” and “Vegas Lights” — I began to slowly understand their appeal.
For each song, the art direction changed to present a new chapter in the performance. At first, I didn’t appreciate it; it felt confusing and lacked cohesion. I later realized that whether it was a waterfall of playing cards, golden coins and neon lights, or a Gatsby-inspired Art Deco display underneath a falling cascade of golden sparks, the group had enough tricks up their sleeve to stay fresh and entertaining in a room full of kids who could have largely become distracted. Though at times the ever-changing themes and decor felt a little overwhelming, I looked around to witness girls singing and dancing with magic in their eyes.
As the show went on, Urie emerged from underneath the drum kit’s rafter, seated at a grand piano, to perform “Nine in the Afternoon” and “Miss Jackson,” before disappearing again. This time, a video of Urie was shown, in which he was strapped to a chair and being tortured by Pete Wentz — who not only plays bass for Fall Out Boy, but owns the record label Panic! At the Disco are signed to.
Soon enough, Urie walked onto the floor to sit at a mirrored-white grand piano that had been previously hidden underneath a large black box, where he performed “This Is Gospel” solo as the piano stage rose and fell amid a shower of white and gold confetti. And just like that, Urie was back on his feet, sauntering through the crowd as he sang “Death of a Bachelor” all while giving high-fives, handshakes and hugs.
Though the sheer size of the room could have swallowed the band, I realized that Urie’s personality and penchant for entertaining would never allow for it. It probably also doesn’t hurt that the band is tight, while Urie’s vocal register is almost operatic in its ability to dip into low notes before immediately belting out the highest of highs.
As the group joined Urie onstage again, they launched into a cover of Billy Joel's “Movin’ Out,” a song Urie said his parents “would play on Saturdays while [he] did chores.” He’d later go on to say that he once got to play a song for Joel and “nearly shit [his] pants.”
After a few more tracks, and Urie playing drum solos to Bruno Mars’s “24K Magic” and Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” the entire arena filled with phone lights illuminating paper hearts. The girl sitting next to me explained that this is something that fans organize and pass out at each show, specifically to be held up during “Girls/Girls/Boys,” a pro-LGBTQ anthem.
At this moment, I was transported back to my own youth. I realized how beautiful it was for this band to give these kids a place in which they feel they can truly connect with one another without judgment. I began to feel bad for my prior judgments of this group, because really, does it matter what a band’s image is if it gets thousands of people on the same page?
After this, Panic! at the Disco launched into a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” that had the entire room singing along, including myself. To be honest, it was so insanely on point, I felt that I could have closed my eyes and been convinced that it was Queen themselves.
As the show came to an end, the band decided to forgo an encore and instead played their asses off, saving “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” and “Victorious” for last, before they took a bow and walked offstage amid a downpour of more golden streamers and white confetti.
Personal Bias: In the end, I left with a new respect for Panic! At the Disco. I don’t know that I’ll run out and buy their albums, but I can say that the long-standing negative opinion I’d once had of them can be put to rest.
The Crowd: I think it’s safe to say that the crowd was about 90 percent women and girls of all ages, either dressed with the hopes of catching Urie’s eye or in the middle of that pre-teen awkward phase. There was lots of colored hair, lipstick and Snapchatting going on.
Opening Acts: Saint Motel opened the evening with cheerful, pop- and jazz-infused tracks that felt reminiscent of acts like Young the Giant or Coin. MisterWives, on the other hand, were a six-piece arena-pop act fronted by singer Mandy Lee, and it was awesome to see a female own such a large stage and get the mostly female crowd warmed up before Panic! At the Disco.
Random Notebook Dump: The last two songs the group played prove that their sound has evolved seamlessly from their first album to their most recent, without abandoning the heart of their sound. I also think it’s hilarious and smart that they have their own Snapchat filter.