Panic! At The Disco is six years old now and counting. That's a sentence that makes me feel old, and measures my life as a music professional, my emergence into this career timed around their rise to fame. I've sen them mumblemumble-deep-into-the-double-digits in every conceivable type of setting during their lifespan, but the New York staple of Summer Stage was a fresh and unique take, a place I associated with indie aritsts and jazz ensembles, the kind of shows you'd take a picnic and sit outside the fence when tickets sell out, not a show filled with the godfathers of mid-aughts pop-punk-emo like Pete Wentz or Brendon Urie.
We arrived just in time for Neon Trees, missing Wentz's post-Fall Out Boy project Black Cards, which I am told is less a band and more solo singer plus Wentz serving as DJ/Hypeman. Also 90s star Shaggy joined the group for one song, which is maybe the most inexplicable sentence I've written in a long time. Neon Trees blazed through an 8-song set, adding one cover of P.Y.T The bands exposure over the last year definitely provided them a solid chunk of the crowd singing and dancing along, and lead singer Tyler Glenn prancing, disrobing and hand-jiving can't help but keep your interest. Hit "Animal" got the loudest response, even from my mother who had never heard it before but thought it was the best song of the set regardless. They may translate better in a smaller indoor club than a big, open air park setting, but they are nonetheless entertaining. Their next NYC visit is with Duran Duran in Madison Square Garden, so perhaps the meshing of roof plus arena will amplify their presence.
After a quick changeover, Panic took the stage with a more stripped down set than the last two times I've seen them, launching into current single "Ready To Go" and barreling forward to jump between Album 1 and Album 3 tracks, almost-completely ignoring Album 2, the Beatles-esque "Pretty. Odd." which was mostly the product of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker, who both left the band two years ago. It's unfortunate, because the album has great tracks, but the dance-pop-punk aesthetic of Album 1 and 3 blend together better for a set nowadays. The first half of their set was good, but rocky, with frontman Urie straining on songs like "Trade Mistakes" and performing, but not really connecting on tracks like "But It's Better If You Do." They evened out just shy of midway, though, singing "Camisado," a song that should be awkward for a variety of reasons (an inexplicable pure dance track written by Ross about his ailing, alcoholic father) but somehow manages to push all that aside and be pure joy.
Across the board almost every song was punctuated with a screamo-worthy howl and accompanying body contortion. Watching Urie on stage is like a lesson in performance of gender, from overly camp to staunch manliness – and sometimes too far in that direction, with Urie's banter about how he'd "fuck us later" capping off the night. On their first big arena tour the band was notorious for facepaint and scripted stage gay, now the script is out the door and instead Urie hangs off guitarist Ian Crawford and presses up against bassist Dallon Weekes, with only drummer Spencer Smith out of reach behind his kit.
Smith did come off the kit once, to stand in the photo pit and watch front-row as Urie dedicated the acoustic "Always" to the soon-to-be-birthday-boy, noting that he was "one sexy bastard." (Comment From My Mother: That drummer is great!) The band managed to fit three covers into their already bursting set-list -- Dephce Mode's "Personal Jesus" blended into "Hurricane" off the most recent album, a quick take on "Let's Get It On" left Urie doing his best sexy-singer impressions (including a spot-on Cher and R. Kelly), and the group called out Neon Trees to duet on a song they'd learned just five minutes before, "Dancing In The Dark," a Springstein shout-out to the bridge and tunnelers in the SummerStage crowd. Glenn had been promising to out-gay Urie and Weekes currently level of affection, but didn't really come close to the face petting, and face-on-face rubbing during their MTV VMA winning and radio-taking-over 2006 hit "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" (interesting, the same song most of Panic's stage-gay clustered around in previous incarnations, even though there's nothing terribly gay about that song.) During bombastic new track "Let's Kill Tonight" they merged into a drum and bass outfit, with Crawford and Urie filling in as part of a drumline along with Smith, also reminiscent of their 2006 arena tour roots.
They encored with "Time To Dance," the track that got them their MySpace-to-riches record deal with Pete Wentz, who joined the group on bass for the song, taking the time to sing nose-to-nose with Urie and go for a little ass-groping as well. Closing with the ideal "Nearly Witches," a refuge from the non-existent true second album that was scrapped in favor of "Pretty. Odd.", it is the real bridge between 2006 Panic and 2011 Panic, a fairy-tale style, fantastical, all-over-the-place number that doesn't sound like anything else. It was perfect inside the tree-lined Rumsey Playfield, and left me walking out feeling otherworldly. If only the band would bring back their steampunk dancer crew, the last missing ingredient for my ideal Panic show. Six years later and I'm still in it for the theater and the camp, even if it comes in smaller doses in 2011.
Love and Affection
In The Next Room
Calling My Name
Sins Of My Youth
Panic! At The Disco:
Ready To Go
But It's Better If You Do
Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
Personal Jesus (Cover)
The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is The Press Coverage
Let's Kill Tonight
Nine In The Afternoon
Dancing In The Dark (Cover with Neon Trees)
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Time To Dance (with Pete Wentz)
Let's Get It On
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