There are few things I would sacrifice my health for. On the road to recovery after a three week long bout with Bronchitis and walking pneumonia, I made a U-turn on Sunday when I ventured out to catch Panic at the Disco at the Expo center.
I don't really have guilty pleasures. How can I when I'm ready to unashamedly admit I've seen Panic at the Disco four times now? Sure, I did feel a bit weird every time a friend attempted to confirm my Crystal Castles attendance and I had to explain that no, I was skipping them to quench my teenage-style thirst for Panic at the Disco [Editor's Note: Our other live reviewer, Clara Ridabock, is an actual teenager]
. It wasn't that it was an easy choice to make, it was more like there was no choice. Panic's live show changes so drastically every time they mount a national tour (they seem to be a little Madonna-y in terms of reinvention). To miss this show would have meant missing a chapter in their life as a band (a very visually intriguing chapter), whereas Crystal Castles aren't gonna change all that much.
Last time I boarded a MAX yellow line out to the Expo Center was in fact for Panic at the Disco as well when the band brought its tour to North Portland all the way back in 2006. There were many differences abound this past Sunday. I've seen the Vegas quartet through its vaudeville-meets-Burlesque troupe phase that summer in 2006, its circus phase of winter 2006 at the Rose Garden and at Bumbershoot in 2007 (one of its very few live engagements of the year) when the band presumably decided it wanted to be a "real" band by ditching its additional dancers and tone down its own costumes. This Sunday's showing was like stage two of the Bumbershoot show, only they sucked out any semblance to Panic at the Disco showmanship in that effort to be seen as a "real band." You can still be a real band and not be stuck behind a guitar the entire time!! Yes I'm talking to you, Mr. Urie.
A quartet when it comes to publicity shoots, but a fivesome when it comes to the live show, Panic at the Disco opened its Portland set with "Nine In The Afternoon," the first single from its latest disc Pretty Odd
. Typically over-the-top frontman Brendon Urie strummed a guitar throughout the song's entirety and when it came time to transition to "But It's Better If You Do," he didn't put it down. First error! And he didn't put the guitar down the entire show. The horror! At Bumbershoot, he'd remained guitar-free, which allowed him to better work the stage, flying around at rapid speed from side to side with grand gesturing. Much of Panic's appeal is in Urie's theatrics, and when he's made to stand still—concentrating on playing an additional guitar that's never before been necessary in completing the band's live sound—much of the magic is lost.
With Britney Spears, it was never about the music: It was about the show. That was near true in Panic at the Disco's case. Urie and Co. were so over the top with their antics. The throngs of screaming female fans seemed to be coming just as much for the visuals as they were the insightful melodramatic pop tunes they could listen to in the comfort of their own room at home.
A couple of songs with Urie on guitar I could've understood, but his inability to put it down made it seem like it was a desperate bid to be seen as an actual musician rather than ringmaster. But Urie doesn't need to prove he knows how to play instruments. On prior tours, he'd sit behind a piano and tap away at the keys for catchy melodies. Now they have a permanent stand-in at the piano, making Urie's pianist role obsolete.
Normally I'm the biggest fan of bands that talk in between songs, but I clenched my teeth while sharply inhaling upon hearing what passed for conversation when it came to Panic this time around. None of the members had anything of relevance to say—nothing about their day spent in Portland other than it was sunny, making it seem like they said the same thing on every tour stop. Only, after the meandering mumblings that the mics failed to pick up half the time and a seemingly rehearsed start and re-start of a song went so terribly, I wondered if in fact any of it was rehearsed. Maybe this was just a band so tired from a two-month Honda Civic tour that they'd become nonsensical in their onstage conduct.
Furthermore, Panic at the Disco seemed too desperate to push the image of being a folk band. Keyword image with near-psychedelic illustrations projected behind them. Acoustic guitars do not a folk band make. I mean they even played "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" with an acoustic guitar. Gasp! I'm not against change. If it had worked and their charisma had remained intact, then I would not be so crotchety. But I was disappointed—and how can pretty boys who make sheeny music ever be a disappointment? I was not ready to confront that reality at the time, and I'm still not.
Onto the high points! Primary song-writer Ryan Ross sang lead! Live! Bubble machines! I love that they still use/need props to maintain interest! Whatevs! It was fun! The bubble machines weren't only on the stage, but attached to beams above the audience. Whoo! Bassist Jon asked everyone to do jazz hands! And they did!
There was a little brief boy-on-boy action when Urie grabbed Ross' head and pulled him in for a near embrace and mic-sharing, but nothing like the theatrical kisses between the pair that brought a little softcore fun to stages on tours of the past.
The band alluded to visiting the NW on another tour later this year. I'll be there. I won't hold my breath, but my fingers will be crossed. And $25 will be tucked away in my back pocket ready to buy a T-shirt. I kept it from being spent this time around, not wanting to purchase an item commemorating this particular tour (or detour), but I hope the next show will be good enough that I want to display it with pride via screen-print.
I wasn't the only disappointed one! As I boarded the MAX back into town, now coughing like I'd never began my week of antibiotics, I listened into the conversation of a gaggle of teenage girls who'd also left the show before the curtain close. They were discussing how they created their own doom by having expectations—if they'd entered with zero, maybe it would've been better.
Knowing what this band is capable of made the show a disappointment (even if I'm not about to forget it). For a band that's never less than epic, this was an epic failure in my eyes. Not only in comparison to its own previous tours, but if Panic at the Disco wants to be a guitar band, its live show should be on par with the guitar bands that matter. There were fleeing glints of passion in the eyes of the members of Panic, but they seem so restrained, weighted down by their instruments. I just wanted to wake them up to the fact they can still have fun like they used to. Hopefully they just needed more sleep...