It’s over a decade since Panic! At the Disco played their first show in London. Back in early 2006 the then-glittering baroque pop quartet upstaged headliners The Academy Is… in a swift and sweaty support slot at The Astoria. Blasting through tunes from their divisive debut ‘A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out’, it was evident even then that this was a band meant to be the top billing on a line-up, and indeed it was only a few months until they returned to the UK on their own headline tour.
Tonight’s venue, the cavernous O2 Arena, makes it one of the biggest the band have ever played in the UK, and it’s packed out. There are hundreds of teenagers in snaking queues around the venue waiting to get a glimpse of the latest Panic! merch; but it’s not just younger fans here tonight, with swathes of revellers who clearly grew up on the band’s music embarking on a nostalgia trip.
As an intimidating countdown clock reaches zero, the 20,000-capacity arena erupts with high-pitched shrieks as a string quartet introduction begins. Launching himself through the stage, Brendon Urie looks every inch the pop star in leather trousers and a glitzy blazer. Opening with ‘(Fuck A) Silver Lining’, from latest album last year’s ‘Pray for the Wicked‘, the frontman is flanked by his band, which includes a string trio and small brass line.
This is very clearly Brendon’s show. As he manoeuvres the stage it’s an expertly choreographed courtship dance, with not a single step out of place. “I’ve been doing this for almost fifteen years,” he notes, “some of you aren’t even that old!”
And the show tonight feels like he’s reached his final form. Brendon plays a white grand piano for a cover of Bonnie Rait’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ atop a white disc that flies across the crowd. During ‘Girls/Girls/Boys’, fans are given heart-shaped paper to cover their iPhone flashes, so that the arena is illuminated in the colours of the pride flag. There are copious amounts of pyro and endless confetti cannons. At one point he covers The Greatest Showman’s Hugh Jackman-led number ‘The Greatest Show’, and the wine mums in the audience lose their shit. It’s big and bombastic and endlessly good fun for the entire two hour, 28-song set.
He finds brief moments to address the crowd, constantly thanking them and offering nuggets of wisdom to the younger members of the congregation (“to you younger people who feel like you’re being bullied or don’t belong – let me tell you you do”). And then after his trademark cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, he pops a crown on that a fan has thrown on stage, and sinks down to below the stage after a roof-raising version of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’.
Emerging topless and clutching a red cup for the encore, Brendon is reminiscent of a cult leader addressing to his adoring fans. “Thank you for being here and thank you for existing,” he preaches, “we only get to do this because of you… Of course you know that because you’re geniuses!”
He explains that he used to make pretend guitars out of cardboard and sing Blink 182 songs, and then delights with the words many OG stans of the band will have been waiting for: “Now we’re going to do a song that got it all started for Panic!”. The opening pizzicato strings of ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ soar across the O2. As thousands of fans scream back the words, Brendon for once seems to lose his cool, seeming genuinely humbled.
Finishing with yet another speech (“It’s kind of insane that any of us were born… The only reason you’re here on planet earth is because you had to beat millions of other tadpoles… You started life as a winner in first place!”), Brendon rolls into the finale of 2015’s ‘Victorious’. Flamboyant, extravagant and a bit musical theatre, Panic! at the Disco have emerged from the noughties emo junkyard as pop-rock pioneers, and long may this continue.
Panic! at the Disco played:
‘(Fuck A) Silver Lining’
‘Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time’
‘Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)’
‘Hey Look Ma, I Made It’
‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa’
‘Nine in the Afternoon’
‘One of the Drunks’
‘Dancing’s Not a Crime’
‘This Is Gospel’
‘Death of a Bachelor’
‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ (Bonnie Raitt cover)
‘Dying in LA’
‘The Greatest Show’ (Pasek and Paul cover)
‘King of the Clouds’
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Queen cover)
‘Emperor’s New Clothes’
‘Say Amen (Saturday Night)’
‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’