Panic! at the Disco @ Manchester Arena, 30.03.19 / Louder Live
When your hometown is full of a conspicuous volume of people wearing lurid, sequined jackets, sporting hair of all shades and colours with matching glitter sprinkled across their cheeks, and pride flags draped around their waists and shoulders, there is only one band who could be rolling into town that night- the ever-evolving global powerhouse that is Panic! at the Disco. Despite their steady decline in members over the years, their status as an unrivalled livewire for producing satiable pop hits has only grown. The release of their latest record, ‘Pray for the Wicked’ saw them smash charting records, and their huge single, ‘High Hopes’ be certified platinum mere months after the album’s release. Now, the band, comprised at present of frontman Brendon Urie and a cast of touring musicians flanking him on all sides, are embarking on the UK/EU leg of their tour in support of this mammoth record. When it was Manchester’s turn to welcome Panic to their city, we went along to check out this new evolution of our emo-prince-turned-pop-heavyweight, and what a night it turned out to be…
Opening up the night with their electronically-enhanced brand of alt-pop was Boston-bred trio, Arizona. Despite their many layers of rippling synths that bubbled throughout their set, one couldn’t help feeling that their sound was not quite colossal enough to capture the magnitude of an arena setting. Blending a sound that lay somewhere between Kings of Leon and Ariana Grande, the band’s rippling synth notes at times pounded, but at other times plodded along, skipping over much of the truly meaningful substance that could have informed the melodies: all but for closer ‘Cross My Mind’, which carried a touch of vibrancy that made it subtly distinctive from its predecessors.
Gently prodding the atmosphere up a gear was the evening’s next offering, and one of the plethora of pop princesses who have been storming the charts in their questionably homogenous glory, MØ. Erupting onto the stage with her huge 2015 single, ‘Lean On’, it appeared to have become one of those tracks where the lyrics have buried themselves, unnoticed, into the dusty submerged memories of many of the crowd, as a ripple of bopping heads and swinging fists pulsed through the arena floor. Bookending the set with her most recognisable hits, closer ‘Final Song’ produced much the same effect, however, much of the set’s midsection was so drenched in synthesiser that it was almost impenetrable, and after a time, almost claustrophobic. MØ herself carried an endearingly carefree stage presence, and the whole show was backed by an impressively atmospheric light show, however a more sparing flavouring of the synth notes would have been far more palatable.
After a tense ten-minute countdown, and a barrage of screams in the final ten seconds that hailed down like a flurry of arrows from all sides, the man himself finally made his appearance. Rising from the floor in a whirlwind of smoke, Panic! At the Disco, championed now solely by frontman Brendon Urie, made their presence known instantly, crashing straight into the single that heralded this latest, most musically indulgent era for the band, ‘Fuck a Silver Lining’. As the electric, strained screams descended into a chorus of several thousand singing voices and waving phone screens, there was no doubt that this 21-song set was going to be a raucous pop-rock party from beginning to end!
Much of the night’s soundtrack was derived from Panic’s most recent musical offering, and the titular album of the evening, ‘Pray for the Wicked’, a more-pop centric body of work than those of their very early career, yet one that has bestowed global charting success upon their name. The song that most encapsulates this is the gargantuan global superhit, ‘High Hopes’, which thundered through the room like a stampede of cantering horses, as the youngest members of the crowd through to the band’s veteran supporters screamed the lyrics in raucous unison. The slick, sharp synths that wend their way through ‘Hey Look Ma, I Made It’ were counterbalanced by the smooth, pulsating groove of ‘One of the Drunks’; while ‘King of the Clouds’ deviated yet again, bringing its soaring strings proudly to the fore in its stirring, uplifting chorus. In a moment that seemed almost too well-calculated to be true, Saturday night fever was perfectly encapsulated by the record’s lead single, ‘Say Amen (Saturday Night)’, with its plummeting swoop into the carefree fervour of the choruses. This record, and the night as a whole, were truly a showcase of the wonderfully diverse range of musical influences which Panic! at the Disco are able to master with unflappably self-assured grace.
That being said, Brendon was at pains not to let his roots- and indeed, his staunch older following- be lost in the high-flying decadence of the elite circles of pop super-stardom. A range of older tracks thankfully graced our ears too: ramping the energy up in the room was ‘Ready to Go (Get Out Of My Mind)’, with its fervent sing-along bursts and rolling, pitching melody; the psychedelic funfair that is ‘Nine in the Afternoon’, with its homages to the drug-infused glories of the Beatles; through to the tinkling ivories and hauntingly indulgent melodies of ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’. Panic picked heavily from their fourth LP too, a particular highlight coming during ‘Girls/Girls/Boys’, when the arena came aglow with a forest of rainbow coloured lights, the result of a beautiful fan-organised project that brought tears to Brendon’s eyes: a wonderful moment of prevailing solidarity and acceptance. And, of course, it would not be a Panic! at theDisco show without the return of their landmark commercial hit- introduced by Brendon as ‘the one that started it all’- which has graced almost every setlist in the band’s close to 15-year history: ‘I Write Sins, Not Tragedies’. There is little to say about this song that has not already been written. However, it’s power to unite, to thrill, and to entertain audiences still remains as potent as it ever was.
Despite many believing that this small nod to the band’s debut record would be the highlight of the night’s proceedings, in a pleasantly surprising twist, the most heartfelt, poignant and memorable moment of the evening was in fact brought courtesy of the band’s latest record. Following the now infamous ‘death walk’ through the crowd, where Brendon was greeted by the shining faces of adoring fans who clung like barnacles to the venue’s centre barriers, a gleaming white piano rose from the end of the catwalk in a flurry of angelic smoke. In a heart-wrenching nod to his youth, Brendon began a cover of a childhood favourite, Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’. Slowly, this then warped as swiftly and fluidly as a flowing stream, into the opening notes of ‘Dying in LA’. Screams of awe from the crowd flew upwards like beacons, as they now turned their gazes skywards: the piano had risen into the air, and spun slowly above the transfixed crowd, encircled by a sea of twinkling phone lights, bright against the gloom. It was a truly spectacular sight to behold, and many in the surrounding crowd were reduced to tears, Brendon himself almost joining them, as he gazed out over the crowd, repeating his thanks in a voice shrouded in disbelief. It was truly heart-warming, and a comforting reminder to those who were concerned that a band once so allied with the outsiders, have lost themselves in the misty depths of sanitised pop culture. They may be selling out arenas, topping charts and smashing records, but the heart and soul of what makes Panic! At the Disco exceptional, has most certainly endured.
‘Pray for the Wicked’ is out now viaDCD2 / Fueled By Ramen.
Check out the video for Panic’s latest single, ‘Dancing’s Not a Crime’, below:
Panic! At the Disco are playing some select festival dates this summer, including Firefly Music Festival on July 21st, and Rock in Rio in October. Full details can be found on the band’s socials.