As someone who usually opts out of arena concerts and happens to also be a longtime Panic! at the Disco fan, I was worried my love for Brendon Urie would be drowned out by the claustrophobia-inducing crowds a sold-out arena concert entails. Nonetheless, the night started off on time, which surprised me given the number of far smaller (but far less punctual) concerts I’ve attended. The opening acts, Hayley Kiyoko and A R I Z O N A, were exactly what opening acts should be: Long enough to give unsuspecting listeners a sample of the band’s discography and sound, but short enough so that people who didn’t care wouldn’t get bored.
For some concerts, the opening acts feel as if they’ve been picked at random, and it’s hard to trace even a shadow of a connection to the headliner. However, A R I Z O N A’s dreamy electropop vibe and Kiyoko’s synth-heavy sound formed a pretty balanced, cohesive pairing, especially against the star attraction. I’ll be honest, I would have gone even if the concert was just Hayley Kiyoko alone, but the combination of Urie and Kiyoko at the same performance made for not only a uniquely complementary sound, but also a powerful force against heteronormativity. Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls” and Panic’s “Girls/Girls/Boys,” both of which were performed on Saturday, are merely two versions of the same message, a particular step toward more LGBTQ representation in the music industry.
The Pray for the Wicked concert was quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever attended. Over the years, Panic!’s official members have been whittled down from four musicians to just Urie himself. From his stage presence alone, anyone can tell that he’s perfectly fine with being the lifeblood of the Panic! brand. While he sang, he smiled nonstop, and had a habit of inserting dramatic, drawn out vocal flourishes at the ends of verses, further upping the showtune-y sound that’s already present in Panic!’s more recent releases. Urie’s dance moves were more bouncy than elaborately coordinated, but that much more genuine. While I swayed to his voice throughout the concert, I kept thinking that he dances the way I wish I could — more cool, not-really-trying confident rather than gangly newborn calf. His obvious passion for his music and vivid expressiveness made for a sound that was even better than what was on Panic!’s studio tracks.
I’m certain, however, that even an unbiased audience member would have agreed that the show was far from average. For one, there were live string and horn musicians supplying instrumentals for many of the songs. My favorite involved an adorable coordinated swaying dance number in “Dancing’s Not a Crime.” The songs performed weren’t restricted to tracks on Pray For The Wicked, but rather spanned “Nine In The Afternoon” from 2008’s Pretty. Odd. to the title track from 2016’s Death Of A Bachelor, meaning that you could enjoy the concert even if you hadn’t listened to the new album.
Best of all, Urie didn’t just sing; he popped relentlessly to and fro with the aid of a few hidden stage compartments and not one but two grand pianos. The culminating stunt came after a tear-inducing rendition of “Death Of A Bachelor,” which Urie sang while moving through the crowd hugging and greeting fans. As the audience watched, Urie climbed onto the seat of a grand piano perched on a circular platform, which was then hoisted tens of feet into the air and across the arena while he performed “Dying In LA.” While I admired the beauty of an entire arena illuminated by the soft glow of cell phone lights, I couldn’t help but worry about Urie falling off the platform, especially as it wobbled precariously every time he moved from one side to the other. Luckily, he made it back to the main stage and went right back to singing just as enthusiastically as before, never once wavering at either the height or the danger.
As one of the last remaining fixtures of the alt rock wave of the 2000s, Panic! at the Disco has changed just as much as their fans. Their sound has evolved from intimate garage band to bold and Broadway ready, but don’t get it twisted; if the Pray For The Wicked Tour proves anything, it’s that Panic!’s discography sounds great regardless of what musical era it comes from. It takes a certain talent and charisma to sell out arena stages, and the Pray For The Wicked Tour’s engaging sets, along with Urie’s vivacious sound, is well worth the experience.