At one particularly crowd-pleasing point during Panic! at the Disco’s show Friday at the Forum, Brendon Urie played the group’s cover of one of the “Greatest Showman” songs, from the recent tribute album devoted to that film, and it’s not hard to see why he would gravitate to the musical.
Urie’s so much of a showman in every sense of the word that sometimes this Los Angeles arena stop on the band’s “Pray for the Wicked” tour felt like a circus, too. But through psychedelic light shows and major stage theatrics, Urie remained an ever-capable ringmaster, showing off and showing why he’s got the charisma, musical talent and stamina to be one of music’s longest-lasting leading men.
Urie started the show by jumping out from the floor, kicking off a fast-moving show with “(F— a) Silver Lining.” From there, he played nearly all of the group’s latest album, while sprinkling in surprising deep cuts like “Ready to Go” and “Casual Affair.” He barely addressed the audience in the concert’s first act, but that didn’t make it impersonal. He let loose on songs like “Hey Look Ma, I Made It” and “Dancing’s Not a Crime,” and even when he’s slightly uncoordinated, his joy is infectious — look no further than the ever-fluid crowd for proof.
He did get more personal, though, after the concert’s first hour — and, somehow, more theatrical. For “Death of a Bachelor,” he got down in the crowd to walk through and personally shake hands while accepting some Valentine’s Day roses. It was a charming moment as, during the song’s percussion break, he took time to thank individuals for coming out. From there, he transitioned to perhaps the most memorable part of the show.
Taking to a white piano near the back of the Forum, he shared an anecdote about having an aversion to learning how to play the instrument as a child, but knowing he’d be more receptive to playing songs that he actually liked. He then launched into a rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” as the platform he and the piano were on lifted up toward the ceiling, floating across the auditorium as he transitioned into his own “Dying in L.A.” It was perhaps the highlight, and certainly the most personal moment, of the show, offering a breathtaking display as Urie’s small floating stage was brightened by the lights of hundreds of cell phones.
Audience participation played a strong role in another one of the show’s standout moments. Upon finding their seats, ticket-buyers could find a heart-shaped message instructing them to shine their phone’s flashlight during “Girls/Girls/Boys,” which has taken on a life of its own as a celebration of bisexuality, as part of #PATDhearts, a fan-created movement aimed at promoting unity and acceptance. When Urie played the song shortly after getting back to the stage, fans followed the instructions, lighting up the stadium with lights of all colors as Urie donned a rainbow cape and diverse faces and the word “Love” flashed on the screen behind him. It was a powerful moment, and Urie took the time after to acknowledge those who might be bullied or marginalized. “You do belong,” he told the crowd.
Later, he played Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which isn’t a new stunt, as he acknowledged. The band has been playing the song live ever since recording a cover for the “Suicide Squad” soundtrack. But since the Queen biopic named after the operatic hit found major success at the box office and awards circuit, it had a new resonance — or at least the younger set of fans might have been better able to sing along. And there’s no doubt that Urie has the vocal chops that would likely impress Freddie Mercury himself. Throughout the entire concert, he experimented with everything from astonishing falsettos to guttural growls, showing off a incredibly wide vocal range and a practiced control over it.
Urie, whether he was strutting or pausing to let loose on the drums, could easily anchor the concert without all the smoke and mirrors. But that doesn’t mean the stage set-up wasn’t gorgeous. The stage, in the shape of his “Pray for the Wicked” triangle, came to life often, allowing Urie to lift up from and descend down into for easy transitions. It was a sensory overload, and there was always something to look at. That includes his band: bassist Nicole Row and guitarist Mike Naran ooze cool and played off each other and the crowd, often leading the stage while Urie was gone between songs. Even the percussion sections had simple choreographed moves at certain points.
It’s worth noting that Urie largely stayed away from his earliest music — except, of course, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” the song that catapulted Panic! into Warped Tour superstardom. If Urie’s tired of playing the hit, it’d be understandable. But he turned it into a moment of gratitude, reflecting on pretending to be a rock star in front of the mirror as a child to the tune of Blink 182’s “All the Small Things.”
“To be here now, you know, as like a rock star, you’re not supposed to get all sentimental and tear up a little bit — but I get a little bit choked, and it’s very cool, and it’s all because you guys let me live the dream,” he said, launching into “I Write Sins” as the song “that got it all started for Panic!”
It was the penultimate song, as Urie ended with “Victorious,” which was quite fitting. The show, as Urie played his new songs and seemed to have a ball, came across as a victory lap for the musician. And after Friday night’s show, it’s easy to say that victory lap was well deserved.
By Alex Stedman