It was an old pair of pants. The crotch of it was worn down by one too many washes. I hadn't noticed that the thing split open until I got out of my car and started strolling over to Talking Stick. I live back in Scottsdale; no way I would have enough time to drive back and change my pants without missing the show. So I shrugged and pressed on, knowing full well that the ass of my jeans was split down and my baby blue boxers were clearly visible to the world. If anyone gave me some side-eye, I could simply repeat what I told that storyteller a few years back.
Thankfully, no one noticed my hobo pants because the inside of Talking Stick was a bustling hive of activity. Tons of Panic! fans milled in line for "Death Of A Bachelor" tour merch. The most popular item was a pair of light-up blue horns — not a minute went by without seeing them flickering on top of someone's head.
I got into the arena as openers Misterwives finished their set. The arena was dark and jam-packed with fans. I was taken aback by the scale of the event. I knew that Panic! were popular, but I had no idea they were THIS popular. After knocking over three drinks and inadvertently flashing my boxers in the face of a dozen people sharing my row, I found my seat and watched Misterwives play their last song.
The stage was lit with squares that looked like giant Lite-Brite cubes. The band was very colorful looking — they looked like they were en route to a Fifth Element fan convention. The singer was a small woman with a massive voice. She sounded a little bit like
The crew quickly struck the stage and prepared for Panic!'s set. The drums were placed on a tall, black squared riser. A pair of screens on the side of the stage screened music videos while we waited: The Avalanches' "Frontier Psychiatrist" & Britney's "Toxic." A baffling and brilliant double feature of loopy pop perfection. I don't know if the music videos
Paper hearts made from different colors got passed around throughout the crowd, with instructions to light them with our cell phones during "Girls/Girls/Boys." Before we had time to wonder
Panic! At The Disco is basically Brendon Urie plus a handful of anonymous sidemen at this point. That isn't a bad thing: Urie's obviously grown into the role of Big Time Rock Frontman. He commanded the stage with a goofy, earnest charm. He danced around in a gold jacket, looking like he was Adam Levine's kid brother. The rest of the Panic! ensemble (guitars, bass, drums, and a dancing horn section) wore matching black suits. Behind them, the projection screen cycled through a dizzying variety of images: champagne bottles, octopuses, devils, red love seats, and stain-glass windows.
They opened the show with "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time" and the arena went
The sound was a little off at first. Urie's vocals were hard to make out over the music and the din of the audience. As the set progressed, you could hear them adjusting it and his voice grew more clear in the mix. The crowd sang along to many of the songs, so whenever Urie's voice wasn't up to the task they would fill in the vocal gaps.
When it comes to their stage show, Panic! are clearly playing with some serious major label house money. Their show pulled out all the stops. They sprayed the audience with golden ribbons. A shower of sparks rained down upon the band during an early number. Later on, jets of flame would burst from the back of the stage, fanning fire around the band in an arc like a peacock's tail.
At one point in the set, the drum riser opens up and a rolling platform with a piano on it emerges. Urie hops on the stool and leads the crowd through a rapturous rendition of "Nine In The Afternoon." It got one of the biggest pops from the audience that night. Other tunes like "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" and "Nicotine" also drew some serious Beatles-shrieking out of the crowd.
In the middle of the show, the band left the stage and the lights dimmed. A video projection screened overhead, showing Urie getting abducted by a red-robed cultist. Strapped to a chair, he's forced to watch a video where he's being tortured by Pete Wentz. It was a little confusing, but it served as an excellent distraction: when the lights came back on, Urie appeared behind the sound booth in the middle of the arena! A piano, covered in glitter that made it look like it was a grand disco ball, rose out of the floor in a circling platform. Urie played "This is Gospel" on the ascending column as the audience lit him with their cellphones.
Coming back down to earth, Urie sang the title track off his new album while walking through the crowd. A cameraman caught him hugging fans, shaking their hands, high-fiving them, and even complimenting one random fan's scarf. He got back onstage and the band tore through the rest of the set, sprinkling in a couple of reverent covers: Billy Joel's "Movin' Out" & Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
The paper hearts finally came into play as they got into the final half of their set. As the band sang "Girls/Girls/Boys", the audience lit their hearts and the dark arena lit up with a thousand Christmas lights. The projection screen overhead showed famous LGBT personalities throughout history. Urie addressed the audience, talking about tolerance and love and how the youth would lead the revolution of tomorrow. It was a little clunky, a bit on-the-nose, but it was hard to be cynical about the boilerplate nature of the message when the glowing hearts looked so beautiful. Not to mention the heart-warming sight of little kids and teen fans gleefully waving pride flags as the band kept playing.
Confession time: I don't hate Panic! At The Disco, but they're definitely a band I have very little interest in. Seeing them live didn't change that. I didn't feel the urge to track down their albums. Their songs didn't suddenly start speaking to me in a new way. But that's okay — they're not for me. To paraphrase Ol' Dirty Bastard: Panic! is for the children. The middle school girls losing their minds when Urie took off his jacket, the little kids gasping at the fires onstage, the drunk dads shouting their appreciation when the band paid their respects to Freddie Mercury, the moms putting on their bedroom eyes at Urie as he sashays past their rows: Panic! is for them.
Above all else, I can say that I respect the hell out of their stagecraft. They went all out to give their fans a show with all the arena bells and whistles you could hope for. If I was their target audience, I'd probably have lost my shit tonight watching them do guitar solos while standing on top of pianos. But I'm not: I'm just the guy with my ass hanging out of my jeans, trying to ninja my way back to my car.
Last Night: Panic! At The Disco at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix.
The Crowd: Remember that scene in The Warriors where every gang in New York gathered in one place to hear Cyrus deliver his speech? It was like that, but instead of
Overheard:"Get funky on me! Yeah! Get the fuck out of those shits!" - Brendon Urie, egging on his horn players to tear the roof off the sucker in the whitest way possible. Urie talking about funk sounded about as natural as Steve Carell talking about boobs in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Random Notebook Dump: Panic! At The Disco have all the essential ingredients for being a ska band. Matching outfits? Check. Large horn section? Check. Totally not cool? Check. All Urie needs to do is pepper the mic with a bit of "PICK IT UP-PICK IT UP-PICK IT UP" and Panic! At The Ska Show would be a reality.