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Panic! At The Disco host dance party at Jacobs Pavilion in Cleveland

Panic! At The Disco concert at Jacobs Pavilion, Cleveland, Ohio on July 30, 2014


Last night’s Panic! At the Disco concert had a bit of everything: Joy and pain, sunshine and rain. Impressive vocal harmonies, an impeccable light show, and canons that belched smoke like mechanical dragons…even some “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Panic! at The Disco in Cleveland
Peter M. Roche
Brendon Urie of Panic! at The Disco
Peter M. Roche

Sorry, no kitchen sink or partridge in a pear tree.

But we wouldn’t put those sundry items those past Panic! singer Brendon Urie and his bandmates, who defended their indie-pop crown once again at Jacobs Pavilion with a twenty-one song set that kept the thousands in attendance dancing and singing along.

The Nevada-based group’s been through Cleveland several times over the last few years (losing co-founding guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker along the way). Panic! played the House of Blues in January, and just last week Urie was back in town singing Frank Sinatra with Liza Grossman and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The collaboration was one of several highlights at the first annual AP (Alternative Press) Awards and Concert, where Urie received accolades for “Best Vocalist.”

From the way the slender, spastic front man belted his lungs out Wednesday, you’d think Urie thought he was vying for an awards ceremony this week, not last. His powerful pipes dominated the mix on both old and new Panic! songs, and occasionally he’d let out with a shrieking, upper-register note, a la hard-rockers Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) or King Diamond (Mercyful Fate).

One of many stops on Panic’s current “The Gospel Tour,” the riverside spectacle was filmed for live broadcast on Yahoo Screen. Cameramen prowled the Nautica skyboxes and pit area beneath the stage, tracing the action, while boom microphones captured the enthusiastic audience response from the bleachers.

We were able to “replay” the entire show on our computer after getting home. It might be archived there now .

Following some Ennio Morricone spaghetti western intro music (and cutesy, sepia-tone video of a couple kids readying for a showdown), Urie and company emerged from the wings and fired into the incandescent “Vegas Lights” (from last year’s Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!). They connected immediately with the pit-dwellers and bleacher creatures, all of whom obediently waved their arms and pumped their hands skyward—en masse—when called upon to do so on “Time to Dance.”

“Ballad of Mona Lisa,” and (deep breath) “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage” followed, whipping the sardine-packed fans on the floor into a frenzy.

Urie sported black pants and T-shirt, covered by a gold lame jacket that complemented his gilded mic stand and ankle bracelets. But the floppy-haired ringleader started shedding layers three songs in, first ditching the jacket, then—to the delight of the predominantly young, female crowd—shirt somewhere between “Let’s Kill Tonight” and “Girls/Girls/Boys.”

Yeah, the lithe twenty-seven year old has sex appeal to spare. Fortunately, he’s also got truckloads of talent to match the machismo: Urie’s determination to give 110% (and ability to actually deliver) is what sets Panic! apart from the pack.

“Trade Mistakes” and “New Perspective” were preceded by more songs from Too Weird: “Casual Affair” and “Miss Jackson” accelerated pulse rates and kept the kids jumping. Urie sent out the latter tune to a former lover who cheated on him. Good backstory, but the sweaty singer’s preface was laced with more profanity than even this potty-mouthed concertgoer is used to hearing in a single breath.

Urie offset the trash talk with his confident swagger, quirky dance moves, and mind-blowing acrobatics. Hopping up on Spencer Smith’s drum rostrum (featuring illuminated drum heads), Urie finished singing a tune and froze in place, back to the crowd, arms raised overhead in a typical “rock star” pose.

But then—in a blink-you-missed-it moment—Urie executed a 360 degree backflip off the riser, his perfect landing the cue to start next song.

My jaw dropped.

Guitarist Kenneth Harris switched instruments throughout the night (favoring a Fender Jaguar) and stepped on various gadgets on his Pedalboard 3 for special effects. Bassist Dallon Weekes underpinned Spencer’s beats with an undulating bottom end and helped Harris on backing vocals as eerie green and amber spotlights whirled and helix Christmas lights flickered behind them.

Urie also played guitar, too—albeit sparingly. The singer retreated to a neon pulpit (adorned by an exclamation point) at stage right halfway through the show to play some pretty piano on “The End of All Things.” “Nine in the Afternoon” was one of few ambassadors from the 2008 CD Pretty. Odd.

Another homemade looking video served as an intermission of sorts: A pair of young lovers swapped roses and gummi bears while pondering a sunset together.

Few people noticed or cared when it started drizzling, probably because the rain came just as Panic! launched into their commendable cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Urie still tinkling on piano. Ticketholders were only too glad to help their heroes sing the tune’s memorable choir-style refrain.

The new “Nicotine” (from the similarly-named EP) segued into “But It’s Better If You Do.” The main act climaxed with “Collar Full” and “Nearly Witches,” but Urie and the guys encored with a solid right hook (“This Is Gospel”) and devastating body blow (“I Write Sins, Not Tragedies”).

Both opening acts featured front men whose trim frames and serpentine stage moves were a lot like Urie’s, immediately endearing them to early-arrivers.

Boston’s Magic Man kicked off the festivities at 7:30pm with a handful of hyperactive cuts from the 2013 EP You Are Here and 2014 full-length, Before the Waves. Headed up by Alex Caplow, the five-piece ensemble delighted with “Out of Mind” and a travelogue’s worth of effervescent electro-pop (“Chicagoland,” “Texas,” and “Paris”). Keyboardist Justine Bowe (the sole female on the bill) added bright chords on a red Korg and triggered samples as bassist Gabe Goodman thumped over drummer Joey Sulkowski’s strident percussion. Guitarist Sam Lee spent almost as much time hen-pecking buttons on a tiny device with his fingers as he did actually playing his instrument.
Dude, when you’re facing a 3,000-strong audience and have that many watts at your disposal, you should rock out, not text.

Urie fiddled with one of these contraptions later, too, and we’re still not sure what they’re for. They hunched over the toys and tapped away on them, frenetically—like courtroom stenographers—but neither man sounded like he was adding anything to the mix by doing so.

Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon enthralled with a half hour of hits from their early EPs and 2012 eponymous RCA album. Like Magic Man, the Lollapalooza / Bonnaroo vets initially came off like an updated version of an ‘80s New Wave act (think Human League, Wang Chung, or Thompson Twins). But “Spend My Money” and “Next In Line” were more testosterone-charged than anything that’d come before.

“I think it would be good to do a group activity,” announced slithery singer Nicholas Petricca.

Like an ersatz aerobics instructor, the Kenyon College alum then proceeded to direct a jump-along, bringing the Walk the Moon set to a boiling point with “Shut Up and Dance.” Petricca tinkered a lot on Roland and Nord keyboards (changed to read “Nerd”), bludgeoned a neighboring floor tom, and eked a lot of falsetto into his verses.
He was accompanied by bassist Kevin Ray, drummer Sean Waugaman, and guitarist Eli Maimon (who got his own workout in by scissor-kicking around the stage). On closer inspection, the band’s psychedelic backdrop turned out to be a relief of the State of Ohio, and Waugaman’s kick drum bore our buckeye flag.

Call me convert. This forty-something reviewer couldn’t have named a single Panic! song (or picked Urie out of a lineup) two weeks ago. We’ve admittedly grown more cynical with age, turning up our nose when the mix lacks guitar or if a performer fails to evince anything short of virtuosity. Rather unfairly, we expect younger acts (meaning just about everyone post-Nirvana) to wow us like Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, and AC/DC. Our 15-year old daughter recently accused us of recycling ‘70s and ‘80s rock at home, to the exclusion of just about everything else.
“You never listening to anything new,” she charged.

She’s not wrong. We haven’t added a favorite “new” band to our mental Rolodex since Neon Trees (circa 2008-09). But Urie’s colorful, kinetic gospel our restored our faith in younger talent, not to mention the kids flocking to see them. Sure, there were a lot of high school girls in risqué attire last night (I was embarrassed for their parents), but we also spotted a few Beatles tees, a Red Hot Chili Peppers tee, and a Casualties shirt—and it was apparent everyone was having lots of fun.

Living in the now, to be sure, but making memories. Just like we did at their age.

It doesn’t get more legit—or hardcore—than that.

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