Better Than: Reading Macbeth for school and soundtracking the assignment with a Panic! album. Some of us can make that comparison more literally than others.
Panic! At the Disco has never been afraid to try new things, and over the years we’ve seen them take many different forms. There was Pretty. Odd., the Rubber Soul-esque ’60s rock tribute which they toured as a mellow, flannel-wearing, semi-acoustic band. Just a couple years prior, they’d toured their Vaudevillian, power-emo debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out complete with dark, circus imagery. With Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! and a record release party at the McKittrick Hotel after a performance of the hotel’s immersive Macbeth play and art installation Sleep No More, Panic! has returned to their theatrics almost completely, but, like the band they’ve made apparent they are, have traversed upon fresh territory because nothing lasts forever.
There’s something poetic about each of Panic!’s album titles at the moment they release them. Their Fever debut was a breath of fresh air amongst the homogenous sounds of labelmates from Fueled by Ramen and Decaydence. They were different, a feat within itself, and suddenly became massive. Pretty. Odd. established that Fever was not the singular sound the band would be producing forever and that they were, as artists, fairly odd. Vices & Virtues, more traditional in its alt-rock nature, followed a time of tumult for the line-up when co-founder and principal songwriter Ryan Ross left to form a new band and took bassist Jon Walker with him.
Today, Too Weird to Live is a title referencing Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a continuation of their literary theme stemming from the Chuck Palahniuk quote-filled Fever, and a tribute to the band’s origin and hometown of Las Vegas. Like the title, Panic! is too weird an act to sustain one singular life, but the rareness of their sound and image, especially in the wide-spanning genre of “alternative rock,” cannot merely dissipate.
So, as strange the combination of immersive Shakespearian theatre and the alt dance sound of Panic!’s new era, the experience just made sense. Sleep No More is, by itself, a pretty insane experience. Participants witness the play Macbeth unfold throughout a multi-floor set and in a nonlinear fashion. There are no words spoken and no direction other than to wear the aviary masks the entire time and try to go through the hotel alone. It’s a Goosebumps-type “Choose Your Own Adventure” and just as spooky. The set, baroque and Victorian in many senses–but also kind of an homage to noir with its 20th century inventions peppered throughout in an effort–modernize in a limited way, could easily be a video backdrop for the band that performed immediately after the nearly three-hour experience. Honestly, lead singer and remaining touring member from the original line-up for the time being, Brendon Urie, could have easily popped out to perform “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” during any of the more intimate moments characters shared in the labyrinth of rooms.
Once the show ended, the participants who were also attending the concert were escorted up a dark elevator to the site where a particularly disturbing bacchanal had taken place during the performance. At 11 p.m., one of the characters who had initially led us to the entrance of the experience began singing the haunting “Nature Boy” and telling an equally spooky, October-appropriate story of how the doctor had called him “strange” upon his birth before saying the album’s title in his best Vincent Price impression.
Then came the band. Panic!’s line-up has changed frequently over the years, but the frantically energetic and now all-grown-up Brendon Urie has remained a constant. His voice is as smooth and massive as always, but he brought in a hefty amount of hair metal screams throughout each song. The first four tracks off the setlist were oldies for them spanning Fever and Vices. “This is Gospel,” the second single off of the latest, was consumed by an intimate crowd that already knew every word. Urie’s strategically frenzied exuberance poured out across the entire stage as he tested out character-type voices on old lyrics, the omnipresent Dee Snider yelps, and some screamo moments referencing his popular Vine series “positive hardcore Thursdays.”
Each song, especially ones off the band’s debut, had an extra weight to them. The sound felt meatier and more driving than the semi-delicate nature that marked much of the theatrical album, even during its louder moments. This theme meant there was very little place for tracks off the even more delicate Pretty. Odd., though the album’s lead and poppiest single “Nine in the Afternoon” did follow the much more aggressive and seductive new song “Miss Jackson.”
See also: Fall Out Boy – Terminal 5 – 5/29/2013
After “But It’s Better If You Do,” Urie noted that the band usually does the usual encore gag of leaving and waiting or the pleas of the audience before returning with three more songs as the show’s closer. He stated how he chose to forego that method and play straight through, ending with the song that brought them stardom in 2008, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” He didn’t sing most of the verses, favoring the sound of the audience’s unified voices and best imitations of Urie’s distinct vocal intonations during the song. Urie himself acted out some of the playful lyrics before jumping in and powering through the choruses. The song, though one of their oldest, didn’t feel like a stark departure from the varied set. Instead, it showed how with every era, a piece of them will always be writing in the vein of those same and earliest sins.
Critical Bias: I’ve seen the band now four times officially, so that should speak for itself.
Overheard #1: “You take YOUR shirt off.” – Brendon Urie responding to some imploring screams from the crowd. IN OUR DEFENSE, he did just drop this tribute to “one of the sexiest videos of all time,” and I’m not sure what he expected us to do after that.
Overheard #2: “Can I make a Vine with you?”
Random Notebook Dump: I do not know Macbeth as well as I thought I did, but boy, do I know ALL THE LYRICS to every Panic! At the Disco song.
Time to Dance
The Ballad of Mona Lisa
The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage
Let’s Kill Tonight
This Is Gospel
Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Head)
Nine in the Afternoon
Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
But It’s Better If You Do
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 9, 2013