Sorry dads, but the ‘pop has no place at Reading’ argument is so tired now that it’s practically narcoleptic. A thousand-and-one piercing bores might shriek at the sight of a well-manicured singer taking the place of their precious guitar-wielding blokes on that iconic main stage, but let’s face it – Reading has been a celebration of youth since it first began; one that thrives under the direction of the fresh-out-of-GCSEs crowd.
This year’s line-up is its most diverse to date – and if that’s not a glowing indictment of the ‘youth of today’, then… well, you should probably question why a little diversity makes you shit your knickers so much, eh grandad? And besides, given all the strife our generation has to contend with day-in, day-out, who are the comfy middle-agers to deny us a little fun come the August Bank Holiday?
Enter Panic! At The Disco – or rather, Brendon Urie. Co-headlining that main stage alongside Kendrick Lamar, he’s a man who knows all-too-well what the wrath of a boring, crusty rock purist can manifest. Back as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, he faced a barrage of bottles when he and his bandmates first took to the Reading main stage in 2006 – one which saw him knocked out cold within seconds of arrival. It’s a moment he looks back on today with a devilish grin.
“This is kinda wild – 12 years ago I played my first Reading and Leeds Festival, and in the first thirty seconds I was knocked out by a bottle,” Urie beams at one point this evening, to a crowd that stretches further than the eye can see. “We came back on stage when I woke up from a two-minute coma, and that was the happiest I’ve ever been at that point. But now I can say this is the happiest I’ve ever been, so thank you for being a part of that.”
Panic!’s main stage top slot is a tale of redemption fit for a Disney film. From the second Urie bursts on-stage to join his new bandmates, string quartet, and the ballsy pop-rock anthem of ‘(Fuck A) Silver Lining’, it’s a non-stop-sprint of a victory lap, and a great big ‘fuck you’ to all those holier-than-thou rockist bores who’d sooner spend their pension money on a new lawnmower than a ticket to Reading, regardless of the line-up. It’s hard to pinpoint the moment Urie went from emo-boy bottle-target to millennial Elton John, but it’s a shift that fits him almost as snugly as his newfound leather trousers. Every screaming fan in attendance would surely agree.
The tightness of those trews might be to blame for the set’s most impressive feature too – Brendon’s singing voice. The high notes he hits during ‘Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time’ and ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’ are Mariah Carey-level, while under the guidance of Urie’s pipes, a now-customary cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (“I just really fuckin’ wish I wrote this song,” he shrugs by way of explanation) showcases the Queen classic’s original brilliance, before it became an oft-strangled karaoke mainstay. Adam Lambert better watch his back.
Ironically, the complainers are the same dusty old fools that would be shaking in their kinky boots were they to catch a performer like Urie on a West End theatre stage. His talent is no less ‘real’ in this full and muddy field.
It’s important not to get bogged down in Urie’s on-paper skill, though. Above all, Panic!’s 2018 stage-show is just a glitter-cannon full of fun. He jack-rabbits about the stage without missing a beat, and his crowd follow-suit, mustering that most awe-inspiring festival sight – a 10,000-strong crowd pogoing in unison – when he whips through the likes of the appropriately-titled ‘Dancing’s Not A Crime’ and ‘High Hopes’, which is so transcendent it even sees Jesus himself rise from the crowd to bless the band and all in attendance (admittedly, it’s possibly just a man in a Jesus outfit – it’s hard to tell for certain).
It’s moments like these that are writing the musical lore of tomorrow, with the teenage crowd in attendance sure to recount these stories for decades to come.
Similarly, a stunning rendition of ‘Girls/Girls/Boys’, becomes the set’s most amazing moment. As Pride flags are raised left-right-and-centre, “We’re gonna do a song that’s very, very important”, says Urie by way of introduction. “You, the fans, have changed the meaning of this song for me and for everybody else. It started out as something personal to me, about a sexual experience, and it became an anthem of pride, acceptance and love, and I appreciate you for it.” As he shimmies about the stage, visibly moved by the occasion, it’s refreshing to see a song with a message this important delivered with the kind of beaming, blinding brilliance the LGBT+ community deserve, rather than the usual solemnity.
A rollicking encore of ‘Say Amen (Saturday Night)’ (“it is fuckin’ Saturday, dude!” Urie says with a giggle) and ‘I Write Sins, Not Tragedies’ (“a song that got it all started for Panic! At The Disco”) is met with delirium, hammering home both how far Panic! have come, and how much fucking fun they’ve remained throughout. It’s then left to the oh-so-appropriate ‘Victorious’ to round off the moment of redemption, both for Urie and for young, excited music fans at large. Let the grandads rustle their jimmies over foggy memories of the ‘good old days’ – those at Reading on Saturday night could tell you, there’s no days better than these.
Panic! At The Disco’s setlist was:
(Fuck A) Silver Lining
Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time
Hey Look Ma, I Made It
The Ballad of Mona Lisa
Nine in the Afternoon
Dancing’s Not a Crime
This Is Gospel
King of the Clouds
Death of a Bachelor
Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover)
Emperor’s New Clothes
Say Amen (Saturday Night)
I Write Sins Not Tragedies