It’s been a few days since I saw Panic! at the Disco, and I hope my roommates aren’t sick of hearing me sing “When you’re DYIN in a lake… When you’re DYIN in a laaheyheyke” all day. Turns out it’s actually “Dying in LA,” but either way, it’s one hell of a song.
As you can probably tell, last Sunday was my first ever encounter with Panic! at the Disco, a band I’d heard of peripherally for years. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had a strong intuition it wouldn’t be disco. As their elaborate stage plot was getting set up, the feeling of anticipation in the crowd was palpable. A chorus of giddy screams swelled at the appearance of a man in a black t-shirt, but subsided once people realized he was just a guy mopping the stage. There were more than a few “false starts” for this trigger happy audience until a timer appeared on a giant screen: ten minutes til show time! As the last 30 seconds passed, a line of drummers and string players began emerging from underneath the stage, then a bassist and guitarist. At the zero mark, the lead singer literally blasted up out of the floor like a canon ball, launching a good meter into the air before hitting the ground on the first beat of the first song. From that moment on, the show was absolute fire.
With wild pyrotechnics and a high budget stage production, Panic! at the Disco truly lives up to its origins as a Las Vegas act. Lead singer Brendon Urie is a real firecracker, strutting the stage in a sparkling gold jacket and throwing out the occasional Elvisesque “Thank you very much.” In many ways, he is as much an illusionist as a singer, disappearing into the floor only to pop back up again somewhere else. There was this completely wasted couple a few seats down from me, and when Urie unexpectedly appeared at a white piano on the other side of the arena, the boyfriend shouted, “HOW THE FUCK DID HE GET THERE?!?!?”
If he thought that was impressive, imagine how blown his mind was when the piano suddenly lifted into the air and hovered above the arena on wire suspension. From this high ground, Urie launched into the band’s signature ballad “Dying in LA.” While he floated overhead, the crowd flashed cellphone lights and sang along. It was pretty magical. Finally, the piano made a soft landing on the edge of the stage, and Urie ended the stunt with a backflip. Earlier a song with the chorus “this is the best show” struck me as rather self-aggrandizing, but at this point I had to admit: “The man did a backflip. He’s allowed to brag!”
Yet for all the spectacle, the thing that makes Panic! special is Brendon Urie’s vocal range. He does this thing where he sings pretty high for a male vocalist, and you think, “Hey, that’s pretty decent.” Then out of nowhere he kicks his voice up an entire octave like that weird Russian singer guy who was all over the Internet five years ago (or the opera singer from The Fifth Element). It sounds inhuman, and it never fails to ignite the crowd. Urie’s vocal talent can’t be understated, and although he has an American Idol-y vibe at times, the influence of George Michael and Depeche Mode make him a unique singer grounded in the iconic traditions of 1980’s sad boys.
Ultimately Panic! at the Disco’s music is fairly conventional modern pop, and their latest single “High Hopes” is kind of an underachieving ode to yolo capitalism. Still, Urie’s unparalleled vocal talent paired with a stunning stage show make the ticket worth the price. Viva Las Vegas!