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Panic! at the Disco bring the Gospel to San Diego

Panic! at the Disco Gospel Tour, San Diego-slide0
Photo: Lauren Wilson

Nearly 8 years ago, I went to my very first concert. It was a stop on Panic! at the Disco’s theatrical Nothing Rhymes with Circus tour. Since then, the band has seen an incredible amount of changes, from the drop (and reinstatement) of the “!” from their name, lineup changes as well as changes in style and direction. Nearly 8 years later, they arrived in San Diego a near completely different band.

Formed in 2004, Panic! at the Disco found quick success with their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, bolstered to the spotlight by the hit single, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” Originally made up of Brendon Urie, Ryan Ross, Spencer Smith, and Brent Wilson (who was replaced early on by Jon Walker) the quartet was signed by Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz to his new label, Decaydance. After the massive success of their first album, they released their follow up, Pretty. Odd. (And subsequently dropped the “!” from their name.) The sophomore album was more critically acclaimed, but stylistically a far cry from their previous direction. Before the third album was finished however, the band reclaimed the exclamation point but took a huge blow to the lineup with the departure of Ross and Walker (Ross being the main songwriter). Smith and Urie went on to round up Ian Crawford (guitar, The Cab) and Dallon Weekes (guitar, The Brobecks) to support their tour and third album Vices and Virtues (2011). Their newest album, Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die, was released in October of last year.

Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 and boasts yet another stylistic change, as the album leans more towards electronic dance than its predecessors. The band’s current Gospel Tour are taking them across Europe and is currently finishing up in the US before heading down to Brazil.

Panic! at the Disco’s tour brought them to the Cal Coast Credit Open Air Arena on the SDSU campus on Tuesday night. Smith has been absent all tour, dealing with rehab, which leaves Urie as the only original member for the tour. (Weekes still on bass, Kenneth Harris on guitar, and Valencia’s Dan Pawlovich on drums) Despite the tour being mainly to promote their newest album, they played a good number of songs from their previous albums as well, appealing to their newest and oldest fans. Their set, after a short video of young kids playing in a western theme, began with “Vegas Lights” off of their new album, the theme of both centering around the celebration of their home town. “Time to Dance” and “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” followed, off of their first and third albums respectively.

By the time I had left the photo pit and found my seat, Urie had already shed his golden blazer and shirt, to finish the set topless, much to screams of little girls and, dare I say, grown women. With “Miss Jackson,” Urie displays an impressive backflip off of the drum set. “Nine in the Afternoon” brought Urie to the piano, stamped with an exclamation point, for the first time in the set, reminding everyone that he is indeed a skilled multi instrumentalist.

The crowd was treated to another quick video during the intermission, after which Urie came out alone to play my personal highlight of the night, End of All Things, the balladic final track off of the new album. During which, Urie’s already impressive vocals and falsetto shines, proving a greater maturity over the past decade. The audience pulled out their illuminated phones and held them over their heads throughout the song, in one of the most beautiful displays of audience participation I’ve ever seen. Afterwards, the band made another bold move, covering Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Panic! at the Disco has a history of covering huge classic songs ("Killer Queen", "Eleanor Rigby", "Karma Police", the list goes on) so it wasn’t much of a surprise. Urie is probably one of the few pop singers now whose range can reach out toward Freddie Mercury’s, and Harris’s guitar solo nailed not only the solo itself, but the emotional undertones. The video of Wayne and Garth head banging was definitely the icing on the cake. The end of the set came with “This is Gospel,” their newest single, and, of course, “I Write Sins not Tragedies.”

Sometimes bands change and it just falls apart, but despite lineup changes, punctuation extractions, and several musical changes in direction, Panic! at the Disco seem to be able to adapt and thrive. There is still a sense of what made the world originally fall in love with the boys. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but whatever it is, will keep Panic! at the Disco around for a long time to come.

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