Panic! At The Disco's Stage Presence Outshines Weezer At Ak-Chin Pavilion

Weezer performs live.EXPAND
Weezer performs live.
Melissa Fossum

Weezer and Panic! at the Disco (P!ATD) share a number of odd similarities: both got alarmingly popular after their debut album, especially with a youth audience; both went on to significantly change their style for a sophomore album that they would later disown; both have lost almost all their original members. But these coincidences don't outweigh the differences, and Weezer's straightforward, nerdy alt-rock makes an odd pairing with P!atD's flashy, macabre baroque pop.

Maybe that's why the crowd for last night's show featuring both bands at Ak-Chin Pavilion seemed pretty split down the middle between fans of each. The woman sitting to my left was astonished to find out Panic! would be playing first and remarked "I guess we'll get to bed early tonight." Sure enough, she was gone by the time Weezer took the stage. The woman to my right showed up halfway through Panic's set in an attempt to skip it entirely, and told me that was a Phish and Grateful Dead fan.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness opened the show, and jury's still out on how much he has much to offer musically, though he's got a bona fide pop anthem in "Cecilia And The Satellite." Still, no one seemed to have told him that he was just the opening act, as he felt comfortable pulling plenty of rock star stunts from running through the audience to standing on his piano keys and jumping up and down. McMahon's dressing for the job he wants to have, and his dashing looks matched with his natural charisma might be enough to get him there.

Panic! at the Disco performs live.EXPAND
Panic! at the Disco performs live.
Melissa Fossum

This only set the stage for Brendon Urie to significantly up the game when Panic! at the Disco went on. Most of P!ATD's music plays more or less like a cheap horror movie: it's fun, thrilling, even occasionally unnerving. And yet Urie sells it all so well that it hardly even matters. Though visibly restricted by his own leather pants, he danced nearly continuously through his set, and twice he jumped into a full backflip. The dude was so clearly having a blast that it was hard not to have a good time with him, as he sang about drug abuse, murder, and insanity, all with a shit-eating grin on his face.

He's also a really, really good singer. While much of his flair came in his mannerisms, he also tended to push his vocal range to the absolute limit at a moment's notice, just for the sake of adding a fill. He hit some of the highest notes I've ever heard any male singer hit, and he did so even late into the night while making it look easy. And while the band's set pulled from its entire discography, from the breakthrough hit "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" to their current chart-toppers like "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time," they also snuck in their cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" that they recently put together for the Suicide Squad soundtrack. It's a major testament to Urie's skills as a vocalist that the cover sounds more or less exactly like the original.

One of the set's biggest surprises came when he brought out a second drum set to more or less battle against his touring drummer, and sure enough, Urie kept right up with him. This segment came with a steady undertone of feminine screams from the audience, probably less because of a hoard of percussion enthusiasts in the crowd and more because Urie took off his shirt before he started playing. And as if we needed any more proof that Urie chose to take the set wherever he damn well pleased for his own enjoyment, the band blasted through a quick hardcore number complete with gravelly screeched vocals before capping the set with the band's tremendous hit "Victorious."

Weezer performs live.EXPAND
Weezer performs live.
Melissa Fossum

And yet, when Weezer took the stage, all that energy dissipated. As the band kicked off the set with their new White Album number "California Kids," then stormed through classic hits like "Hash Pipe," "My Name Is Jonas" and "Pork and Beans," frontman Rivers Cuomo hardly moved from his fixed stance in front of the microphone. In fact, the famed introvert didn't look particularly comfortable up there, even after 22 years of the band touring. At one point he jumped down from the stage and ran through the audience high-fiving fans, and yet he did so entirely with a straight face.

Cuomo loosened up a bit around the halfway point as the band played a medley of old material, which not only allowed them to visit oddities from throughout their career like "Dope Nose," "Surf Wax America," and "The Good Life," but gave Cuomo the freedom to spend some time away from the mic as the other members took over on vocals. Soon he was pressing back to back with guitarist Brian Bell as they both wailed away, then rolling around on the floor in an increasingly hectic solo. This newfound comfort seemed to stick with him as the band finished the set together, and he cracked a smile at last while pulling gimmicks like wearing king's robes for "King For A Day" and reading off audience tweets about the show.

So who put on the better set? In terms of pure musicianship, almost undoubtedly Weezer - they stuck to their strongest work, and those songs (especially those from Blue Album) have already shaped the history of alternative music. Meanwhile, Panic! at the Disco may be hot for the moment, but they've yet to exert the type of influence of Weezer. And yet P!ATD always had more of the crowd waving their hands and dancing together. While Weezer showed hints of exhaustion with the material, Panic seemed legitimately thrilled to be performing. And as I drove home from the show, even just after seeing Weezer's set, I found myself singing Panic! at the Disco lyrics under my breath.

Fans go gaga over Weezer.EXPAND
Fans go gaga over Weezer.
Melissa Fossum

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Weezer & Panic! at the Disco Summer Tour 2016 at Ak-Chin Pavilion

Upcoming Events

The Crowd: Pretty all over the place, but dominantly teenage girls. Dyed pixie cuts galore.

Personal Bias: Pinkerton is a desert island album for me, but I'm also the lone remaining person who still listens to Pretty. Odd. on occasion.

TL;DR: Panic! at the Disco put on the better show, even if Weezer played the better music.

Setlist:

Panic! at the Disco:
"Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time"
"Vegas Lights"
"The Ballad of Mona Lisa"
"Hallelujah"
"Time to Dance"
"Emperor's New Clothes"
"Girls/Girls/Boys"
"Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)"
"Nine in the Afternoon"
"Crazy=Genius"
"Miss Jackson"
"Golden Days"
"Bohemian Rhapsody" (Queen cover)
"LA Devotee"
"Death of a Bachelor"
"I Write Sins Not Tragedies"
"This is Gospel"
"Positive Hardcore"
"Victorious"

Weezer:
"California Kids"
"Hash Pipe"
"My Name Is Jonas"
"(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To"
"Pork and Beans"
"I Love the USA"
"Perfect Situation"
"Thank God for Girls"
"Beverly Hills"
"Dope Nose" / "Back to the Shack" / "Keep Fishin'" / "The Good Life" / "Surf Wax America"
"Undone - The Sweater Song"
"Island in the Sun"
"King of the World" / "Only in Dreams"
"Say It Ain't So"
Encore:
"El Scorcho"
"Buddy Holly"

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Ak-Chin Pavilion

2121 N. 83rd Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85035

602-254-7200


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