Panic! at the Disco is all flash, no substance at SAP Center

Vivian Roan / Staff
Vivian Roan/Staff
Vivian Roan / Staff

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Tuesday night saw a sea of young people, mostly teenagers, descend on the SAP Center in San Jose. Draped in pride flags, people filled the seats of the stadium in anticipation of Panic! at the Disco’s performance.

Brendon Urie, whose recent coming out sparked a flood of praise, seemed to delight in the crowd’s pride garments as they were thrown onstage during “Girls/Girls/Boys.” This display called to mind Harry Styles’ recent tour, where one of the recurring characteristics was his waving a pride flag around onstage and the evolution of the live performance of “Medicine.”

There was a lot of pizazz to the concert — pulsing lights, intricate stage design and even pyrotechnics helped to keep the energy high. That emphatic energy was further buoyed by the songs Panic! at the Disco chose to perform.

With the exception of a few covers, the set list, which leaned heavily on newer music, adhered to up-tempo, fast-paced songs.

In the midst of all this flash, it was hard not to feel a bit jaded by Urie’s persona. Though he engaged in the requisite concert banter, it sounded canned, with phrases such as “Thank you all for being here” sounding so nondescript and broadly applicable as to be devoid of substance.

Of course, there’s always that underlying knowledge that one is watching a scripted show that has been refined and performed often countless time before, but there’s something to be said about performers who can still convey a sincere sense of intimacy in each individual performance.

This intimacy was absent from the Tuesday show.

This absence was inconsequential to the majority of the audience members, as they responded to and reinforced Urie’s ego. Anything he did, including an awkward attempt at the running man and flossing, was met with cheers. Arguably, the audience was the more compelling part of the show, serving as a reminder of what exactly bands and music like this tap into — the strange combination of repression, confusion and anger that characterizes one’s teenage years. The high density of pride flags is no coincidence. Panic! at the Disco was once, and may still be, scene music.

His songs are nominally about drugs and partying, but for kids experiencing internalized homophobia, these actions are often lumped in with being gay. In “Hallelujah,” Urie’s celebration of these fast-life sins in the lines, “All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah / Show praise with your body” also suggests an embracing of their LGBTQ+ identity. These songs are tailored for people who feel out of step with their peers.

The show, then, was a vibrant display with a thesis exemplified by a moment of defiance in which Urie flipped off the audience –– a rebellious spurt of energy directed at seemingly no one and everyone. The tour had an ambitious, intricate stage design. The aforementioned pyrotechnics were kept company by pulsing lasers and dramatic entrances and exits (Urie was quite literally launched from a trap door below the stage at the start of the show).

One of the less scripted moments came during “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” — which was written when Ryan Ross was still the primary songwriter. An audience member was holding up a sign imploring Urie to let them sing the song and, rather surprisingly, he did. After the fan sang the opening verse, Urie returned to the stage with a laugh and the comment, “I love that you said it” — in reference to the person singing the word “whore,” rather than censoring it.

For all the gilt edging, the night still saw an impressive array of musical talent. Backed by three string players, three horn players and two guitarists, the band was doing as much as if not more than the showy effects in terms of keeping the energy up. Urie’s vocal ability is undeniable. He has an impressive falsetto and knows it, as evidenced by his using it in every song possible.

But musical talent is not what determines the memorability of a live performance — Tuesday night’s show lacked that special thing that makes a live performance feel like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It lacked vulnerability.

Contact Danielle Hilborn at [email protected].