Looking over the top selling vinyl albums of 2018, it's a peculiar list with eight of the albums recorded before 2000 and only one released in the last decade, Panic! at the Disco's Pray for the Wicked. You don't see enough written about Panic! and its leader Brendon Urie, maybe because they've viewed by the establishment as a pop or emo band, but at the end of their recent Chicago stop (in the suburb of Rosemont), there was little doubt that Panic! at the Disco is one of the best touring rock n' roll bands at this moment in time. Is it cliché to call them bearers of the rock n' roll torch? Yes, but that doesn't mean that it's not true. Watching the show you're taken through a workout of the last sixty years of popular music as they tip their hat to Sinatra, The Beatles, Queen, Prince, Dick Dale, Janet Jackson, Duran Duran, Chicago and the B-52's and dozens others. Urie and the band channeled the entire history of rock n' roll throughout the entire two-hour show with a clear understanding of what has come before while simultaneously injecting his own eccentricity into a bombastic and fabulous concoction.
Fifteen-years after starting Panic! At the Disco, Brendon Urie is the last man standing from that original line-up and while the current tour heavily focuses on his last few studio albums, it's a celebration of their entire catalog. As the countdown clock approached 0:00, the band took their places before "(F*** A) Silver Lining" found Urie propelling to-the-air, from underneath the stage, to a deafening roar from the crowd. "Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time", with its "Rock Lobster" sample, shook the arena before "Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)" found Urie flexing his arena-rock swagger. The current single "Hey Look Ma, I Made It" masterfully connects memory to emotion while the crowd sing-a-long to "Hallelujah" was a blend of intoxication and awe. Urie and his tight knit band deliver song-after-song with professionalism, but there's blood, sweat and tears being left on the stage. They're delivering a show that is more than mere entertainment, but dips into spiritual waters for many. The reaction of the crowd for the entirety of the two-hour show was an elixir I wish I could bottle for all-time.
"Crazy = Genius" channeled Glen Miller and his big band sound while Urie pounded away on his piano, while channeling the Sgt. Pepper era McCartney on "Nine In the Afternoon". "One of the Drunks" found Urie taking on a deeply reflective mood as he swam into the waters of reflection. For "Death of a Bachelor" Urie made his way through the crowd, going nose-to-nose with the fans, before reaching the back of the arena where he sat behind a white baby grand piano that elevated him to the air as he sang the Bonnie Raitt cover, "I Can't Make You Love Me" that eventually leads into weighty "Dying In LA". "Dying" was more than a moment defined by a stage prop, but featured his most naked and vulnerable vocal of the evening. As the piano began its descent to the front of the stage he was met by the Wicked Strings (as dubbed by the fans) who provided a moment of tranquility and loveliness as they strings tugged at the audience's emotions bringing the song to a close. Since performing in Chicago on the first leg of the tour, they've added "The Greatest Show" (from The Greatest Showman tribute album), which would be the defining moment in any other concert, but for Urie and his remarkable band, it was the moment the show went into overdrive. From the anthemic "High Hopes" to the swaggering "LA Devotee" to the playful "Girls / Girls / Boys" and the fervent encore of "Say Amen (Saturday Night)" and the show closer "Victorious" the crowd was in a constant state of ecstasy.
The current band line-up includes Nicole Rowe on bass, Mike Naran on guitar, Dan Pawlovich on drums, trombonist Erm Navarro, saxophonist Jesse Molloy, trumpeter Chris Bautista, violinist Desiree Hazley, cellist Leah Metzler and viola player Kiara Ana Perico, all of whom delivered a bustling and energetic set that is some of the finest arena rock I've ever experienced. Urie fought for this music like his life depended on it. He has a curious nature evidenced by his backflip drum solo at the end of "Miss Jackson" that went over like a game-winning three-pointer. Panic! at the Disco is in its imperial phase; they are at the peak of their powers and there's no place where it's more evident than the concert stage where Urie and the band deliver a masterclass in showmanship connecting far and wide with the audience.
Beneath the stage fire, flying piano, hidden entrances, stage tricks and confetti there is a man who is fueled by a determination to prove the naysayers wrong. Many felt Brendon Urie peaked before he was legally able to drink, but over the last decade he has forged forward as his audience has been able to watch his desires, dreams and fears come to life on-stage and on each album. Urie is a generous performer and his connection with the audience is intoxicating. The best performers are the ones who make the person furthest away feel engaged as if they're performing just for them, which Urie succeeded wildly in doing. Something that is continual about popular music is how it evolves how it changes each generation has new heroes. Urie is someone who excites me the same way my heroes and their influences did before. The show was more than a declaration of resolve but also a celebration of our collective. Watching these songs unfurl over two-hours is a sight to see, feel and experience. You may dismiss it or call it polished pop, but beneath the glistening veneer are songs with a heartbeat that flutter and fly in concert.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Panic! at the Disco: Writing Rock's Next Chapter
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