I spent the days leading up to this gig listening to all of my Panic! at the Disco albums on shuffle and crying. As it turns out, this was good practice for the live show, where the only difference was that, this time, they were right there in front of my eyes, meaning that any moments of being totally overwhelmed were quickly interrupted by an uncontrollable grin creeping in through the tears. Covered in glitter, I thought I had been prepared, but as it turns out, nothing can prepare you for the holy goodness that is Brendon Urie.
Opening act – Tigertown – did an excellent job of working the crowd up into a frenzy, and lead singer Charlie might just be the cutest, most fun and bouncy thing that I’ve ever seen. New Zealand is way ahead of the game in terms of welcoming female and non-binary led bands into the music industry, and it was heartwarming to see Tigertown support a band that so openly and actively stand for equality and inclusion. Not to mention that they’re incredibly talented and a lot of fun.
As soon as the lights went out, and Brendon Urie took the stage in his shiny, foil blazer, looking effervescent and delightful as always, there was an indescribable sound that emerged from the crowd. To anyone on the outside, it’s just the sound of 10,000 people screaming, but the reality is that it’s so much more than that. It’s a sound that I’ve certainly experienced before, but one that is becoming rarer as the New Zealand music scene improves, and seeing your favourite band is becoming less of a novelty. It’s the sound of every sensation you can possibly think of all rolled into one, a feeling that can’t be described, despite it making up every part of you. It’s my favourite sound in the world.
Opening with what might be everyone’s favourite from Death of a Bachelor, Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time had everyone unapologetically bouncing in their tight spots, yelling the lyrics that are ingrained in their minds as we were drowned in golden streamers – setting an example for what the rest of the night was to be like. As the setlist took us on a journey through the last twelve years of our lives, we were hit with a plethora of genres, anything from the pop inspired Vegas Lights, to the piano heavy Nine in the Afternoon, to the strong jazz undertones of Death of a Bachelor (wind band and all), which Brendon dedicated to Frank Sinatra himself. As the first notes of every song were heard, there was a renewed energy that radiated from every member of the audience, and everyone on stage.
With such an extensive discography, it was sad, but not a surprise that there were only two songs from debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out on the setlist. As the first of these – Time to Dance – came into play, I thought about that fact that Panic! at the Disco have been in my life for almost 12 years, and the realisation that that is over half of my life hit me like a tonne of bricks. We all like to think that we grow out of the phases we go through as a pubescent child, but in truth, I think had any one of my middle school friends been with me last night, they all would have reacted in the exact same way. That is, forcing the lyrics out while crying quite hysterically. I took the time to look around, and realised that there were at least a few people my age who seemed to feel this way, and to be surrounded by that was certainly a comfort. In a new age of Panic!, emo prevails.
I was a self proclaimed “hater” of 2013’s Too Young to Live, Too Rare to Die, and yet the live performance of Vegas Lights had me doing a total 180, as I found myself dancing without irony throughout, and feeling a little sad when it ended (that is, before we were blessed with The Ballad of Mona Lisa), even putting the album on repeat as I drove home for the evening. Still crying, of course. The sudden change in genre from predecessor Vices and Virtues was a shocker, but seeing it performed live added a depth that I have always felt that the studio version lacked.
Brendon introduced Bohemian Rhapsody as a song they didn’t write. Usually, this is the part where I groan, not at all being a fan of hearing covers when I’m (perhaps pettily and selfishly) aware that there’s a song that will never be played live just because this band or artist decided that they liked someone else’s more than their own. In this case, however, I couldn’t have been more stoked. For the next five minutes, I could barely hear Brendon as the crowd joined together in singing the Queen cover – taken from the Suicide Squad Movie Soundtrack, and not for one moment was I thinking about which of their songs they could have fit into those five/six minutes.
In the rare moments that Brendon took a rest from being a vocal god and addressed the crowd, he had our undivided attention. Before jumping into Miss Jackson, he entrapped us with a dramatic story about a pretty terrible ex-girlfriend that he believed that he loved. Naturally, we simply had to know how it ended, and it was so much better than we could have hoped for, as he dropped the punchline: “She told me one thing I’ll never forget. She said, ‘Cash me ousside, howbow dah’“. It was one of those moments where you know you shouldn’t laugh, after all it’s not that funny. But you do anyway. Ugly, unashamed cackling ensued.
Some may have found the lack of theatrics to be a disappointment – especially if they had been holding out for a nostalgic evening filled with the top hats, white gloves, and purposeless canes of 2005 – but having grown with the band, following them to this point, I found it to charmingly define Panic! at the Disco as they are today. With the loss of members over the years, it only makes sense that the music and the performance will have changed too, and I have a lot of admiration for the fact that Brendon has continued to push for his band, despite all of the drama and turmoil he’s had to overcome. I found the basic stage set up to be authentic and raw, forcing us to focus on the musical talent of the people on stage. Brendon’s falsetto moments (of which there were many) were a personal highlight, not to mention his slightly tragic, yet adorable dance moves that graced our eyes periodically throughout the show.
Rather than fake an encore, Panic! used that time to throw in another song, and the iconic I Write Sins Not Tragedies (“This is a brand new song”) received the largest roar of all. Brendon was happy to let us take over for a few moments, giving him a welcome break from singing a song that he has confessed himself to be quite sick of, and throwing in a backflip for good measure. For the penultimate song, Brendon dedicated This Is Gospel to old band mate and best friend, Spencer, another moment that triggered tears due to his heartbreaking departure in 2015. Once upon a time I was one of those “15,000 people in a field somewhere in England” mentioned in his farewell letter, and to hear him being mentioned was bittersweet.
Any hint of sadness was short lived, though, as he launched into a wonderfully received Victorious, and we were doused in confetti for the third time that evening. The recent additions to the band have stepped up to the mark with poise and grace, making themselves known throughout the night, preventing what could have easily turned into “The Brendon Urie show”. Brendon himself is a glorious and wonderful human being, always using his platform to promote equal rights for all – currently more poignant and necessary than ever considering the state of the world. His voice is like a soft, warm chocolate lava cake that washes over you like silk, and while that may sound strange, I know that anyone that was there last night just smiled in understanding.
Towards the end of the set, I noticed a text from someone else in the crowd: “Are you just so happy right now!!”
YES. I replied. All caps.
Just. So. Happy.
Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time
The Ballad of Mona Lisa
Time to Dance
Emperor’s New Clothes
Nine in the Afternoon
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover)
Crazy = Genius
Death of a Bachelor
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
This Is Gospel