Frontman Brendon Urie celebrates his truth with a new generation of fans.
This article is set to appear inside Issue 119 of Twin Cities Gay Scene magazine.
The mysterious touring band of Panic! At the Disco slowly ascended from under the stage, playing an atmospheric overture in darkness. Suddenly, a small trap door opened in front of them. Sole official band member Brendon Urie literally launched out of it, surrounded by a burst of silver streamers.
Urie strutted across the Panic logo-shaped stage singing "(Fuck A) Silver Lining" like a conquering hero making his proud return. Fitting, since Panic! At the Disco is fresh off releasing a US #1 album; last month's Pray for the Wicked. The Minneapolis stop at Target Center on Wednesday was opening night for the 68-date Pray for the Wicked Tour.
Opening night jitters? Non-existent. High-energy fails to describe the show that followed. Urie said a quick hello to the crowd before keeping the chaos going with the B-52's-sampling "Don't Threaten Me With A Good Time." Despite the track being a deep cut from Panic's 2016 Death of a Bachelor LP, the audience erupted in the sort of concert sing-along usually reserved for an act's biggest hits. This trend held throughout the night; fans were audibly singing along to every song, including a surprise Bonnie Raitt cover.
Panic! At the Disco has been releasing albums to continued success since 2005, but the band's audience has always been primarily composed of teenagers. These days, that's a whole new generation: Generation Z. The Millennials that were teens when A Fever You Can't Sweat Out debuted mostly stayed home. In fact, it was rare to spot any adults except parents and chaperones.
The setlist seemed catered to the youthful, hyped-up crowd. Only a few slower songs were performed, and Brendon almost exclusively pulled from the band's 2010s catalog. Only two '00s cuts were played throughout the night; "Nine in the Afternoon" (2008) and "I Don't Write Sins I Write Tragedies" (2005).
The high-energy crowd went into hysterics early on when Urie sang about wearing high heels, especially when he pulled out his falsetto. He seemed to take pleasure from this response, later utilizing his highest pitch more often than the original songs called for it.
Behind the stage, an array of massive, vertical video screens provided visual accompaniment to each song. "LA Devotee" featured Instagram-filtered looks at Los Angeles. Graphics for 2011 single "Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)" hypnotized the crowd with iTunes Visualizer-like patterns.
Pray for the Wicked Tour was also noticeably more personal than previous tours. Brendon Urie even dedicated a song to his mother. "This is a song I wrote for my mom, thank you, mom," he said, before launching into the new track "Hey Look Ma, I Made It." The video screens featured a debaucherous puppet version of Urie living large in Hollywood. That puppet was a fan favorite. In the venue's lobby, he was featured inside a custom fortune teller machine; sort of like Zoltar Speaks from the movie Big.
His dedication to the LGBTQIA+ community felt more personal, too. Brendon recently came out as pansexual after years of being a vocal and exceptional ally. He proudly pulled Pride flags of all varieties from the audience during "Girls/Girls/Boys," his 2013 anthem dedicated to queer fans. It is one of Panic's most demanding songs vocally, but Urie sounded stronger than ever while draped in rainbow flags. The standout performance was made even more spectacular by the crowd, as they held paper of different rainbow colors over their smartphone flashlights, which created a rainbow array across Target Center. "You are gorgeous," Urie proclaimed afterward.
The marathon 28-song-long setlist felt a bit indulgent at times, but the charismatic Urie pulled it off. Even songs he could cut, like deep cuts "Casual Affair," "Nicotine," and "Crazy=Genius," made for engaging performances that highlighted the immense quality of Panic's career catalog.
Despite the tour's title, and performances of songs like "Hallelujah," "This Is Gospel," and "Say Amen (Saturday Night)," Panic! At the Disco didn't feature much religious imagery in the show. An exception was a video of Urie trolling around a graveyard in demonic prosthetic makeup during "Emperor's New Clothes."
It felt like the majority-teenage audience was at church, though. They literally evangelized during "Hallelujah," hands swaying in the air in devotion. Their favorite frontman noticed. At the end of the performance, Brendon Urie only yelled one word… "Church!"
"Is that for me? You drew this? Holy shit," Urie said while holding fan art over his face. Crowd interaction like that feels so natural with Panic! At the Disco shows. During "Golden Days," a fan threw roses on the stage. Urie gripped them between his teeth while trying to sing the bridge. He joked it wasn't "sounding good," and gave them to the drummer. Moments like that were more special than anything Panic could have planned during rehearsals.
The height of fan interaction came when Urie walked through the Target Center floor sections singing "Death of a Bachelor," giving literal meaning to lyrics like "I'm walking the long road" as he made his way to the b-stage.
From there he boarded a flying piano, where he performed a medley of the Bonnie Raitt cover "I Can't Make You Love Me" and a new Panic! At the Disco ballad, "Dying In LA." The latter really showed off the strength of his Broadway-tested pipes (he had a headlining run in Kinky Boots last year).
Panic! At the Disco later paid individual tribute to Cyndi Lauper. The legendary pop singer wrote the music and lyrics for the Kinky Boots musical. Brendon Urie had a blast covering Lauper's classic hit "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." He acknowledged his audience's youth, and said, "If it's a little old school and you don't know who [Lauper] is, hopefully, you know this song."
They knew it. One audience member even threw her bra on stage. The performance was crazy. All the female members of the Panic! At the Disco touring band united to jam together, while Urie sang the song with no lyrical alternations. Distorted VHS visuals of the original 1983 music video played on stage screens.
The ‘80s love kept on with "Dancing's Not A Crime," a bombastic pop-rock cut from the new Pray for the Wicked album. Urie paid tribute to Michael Jackson as he moonwalked and sang, "I'm a moonwalker, I'm like MJ up in the clouds." This track took on more of a sociopolitical tone live, with Urie giving intense emphasis to the line "whatever they tell you" before declaring "dancing's not a crime."
The King of Pop-referencing song was the perfect segue into "Miss Jackson," a 2011 hit from Panic and Lolo that references Janet Jackson and her iconic single "Nasty." During the middle eight, Brendon indulged himself in an interesting drum solo that featured vocal samples from Christopher Walken's 2000 Saturday Night Live skit "More Cowbell." Once that randomness was over, he landed a truly shocking backflip off the platform the drum kit was on.
"I always say this but it's true. I wish I wrote this song," confessed Urie, before leaning into his famous cover version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." It was a welcome carryover from the Death of a Bachelor Tour. It's something Panic! At the Disco is known for now; the studio version is even included on the band's Apple Music Essentials playlist.
The fact it was opening night of the Pray for the Wicked Tour was occasionally evident, and Urie was quick to confess the show only had a few rehearsals. The setlist being six songs longer than their last tour felt like a workshopping element of sorts. Perhaps Panic! At the Disco gauging audience reactions before settling on a final setlist.
It was not immediately apparent we were waiting for the encore, once that time came. No usual fake-out "goodnight" was said before Brendon Urie and company left the stage.
After a few minutes, Panic came back for a three-song encore. Surprisingly, Pray for the Wicked lead single "Say Amen (Saturday Night)" was the best cut from it. The relatively tame studio version is not my favorite on the album, but the live rendition was hard rock and seriously fun. It actually made a Wednesday night feel like a Saturday night.
Before Panic! At the Disco ended the night with "Victorious," Urie took one more moment to tell the audience how special they were to him, and to humanity as a whole. It was a genuine and touching end to one of the most ambitious arena concerts the Twin Cities has seen in a while.
What's your favorite Panic! At the Disco song? Tweet me! @DerekPlease