By Bryan Rolli, Special to the American-Statesman
When the apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy, surely he didn’t expect his words to resonate 2,000 years later amidst a throng of rabid Panic! at the Disco fans.
“Let no one despise your youth,” the disciple exhorted, a word that fans took to heart during the band’s 90-minute marathon at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday night. Grizzled music critics often dismiss artists that appeal primarily to this passionate demographic, but none could deny the ear-splitting screams from some 17,000 devotees in attendance, many of them teenagers who likely witnessed the uniting power of live music for the first time.
Truth is, Panic’s continued relevance and ability to pack arenas is something of a miracle. After 2005’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” went double platinum off the strength of vaudevillian emo anthem “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” the group took a drastic left turn into baroque pop on sophomore LP “Pretty. Odd.” Lead guitarist and chief songwriter Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker departed shortly thereafter, and the underperforming “Vices & Virtues” further darkened the band’s prospects.
Since then, lead singer and sole original member Brendon Urie has clawed his way back to superstardom by sheer force of will, mining the sleazy, electro-glam-rock and sultry swing of his native Las Vegas on last year’s chart-topping “Death of a Bachelor.” The decadent cocktail of Queen bombast and Sinatra crooning affirmed the 29-year-old’s status as modern rock royalty, and his current jaunt boasts the fireworks, confetti guns and dazzling onscreen visuals to prove it.
It also allows Urie to indulge his every whim. Sporting skintight black leather pants and a gold jacket, the frontman dashed across the stage all night, flexing his seemingly limitless falsetto by injecting stratospheric vocal runs into nearly every song. These acrobatics popped especially on “Bachelor” tracks, such as the soulful “Hallelujah” and the sinister, swaggering “Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Urie played eight of the 11 tracks off his new album, as well as five from the band’s last effort, 2013’s “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die.!” Fans hoping for a nostalgia trip had to settle for a brisk “Fever” medley and a muscular rendition of “Nine in the Afternoon” off “Pretty. Odd.” The singer has long since outgrown his impish, teenage Mad Hatter persona, but it’s still frustrating to see him abandon the group’s second album and most daring stylistic departure. The rollicking “Pas De Cheval” begs for a live overhaul, and a solo acoustic performance of “Northern Downpour” would uncork those tear ducts in a heartbeat.
Not that Urie lacked the opportunity to woo the hysterical, mostly female crowd sans backing band. The masses reached a fever pitch when he ascended on a rotating platform at the opposite end of the venue for a stunning piano rendition of “This is Gospel,” only to one-up themselves when he sauntered across the arena floor to “Death of a Bachelor,” charitably offering hugs and handshakes and accepting a bouquet of flowers from one star-struck fan.
The singer also showed his roots with a breathtaking cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a sprightly version of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” The latter was a perfect fit for Urie, who, like Joel, displays his affinity for sounds of a bygone era.
“This man was the soundtrack to my childhood,” Urie said of the Piano Man, for whom he got to perform “Movin’ Out” on a previous tour date. “This is for Sir William Joel! I just knighted him!”
The most poignant moment of the evening came during “Girls/Girls/Boys,” as Urie draped a rainbow flag over his microphone stand and videos of gay rights protests played on the screen behind him. Fans shined their smartphone lights through an array of multicolored paper hearts, illuminating the Red River drum with a rainbow of hues.
“This is just the biggest sign of love,” Urie told the audience. “Thank you for being a part of something so gorgeous. We’re in the midst of history. A revolution is happening, and I’m gonna be right beside you for it.”
It was a brief message that wisely avoided sermonizing; just a simple call for love and inclusivity to an audience that took its main attraction’s words as gospel truth. Hallelujah.
Set list:Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time LA Devotee Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind) Golden Days Vegas Lights Medley: The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage/Camisado/But It’s Better If You Do Hallelujah Nine in the Afternoon Miss Jackson This Is Gospel Death of a Bachelor The Ballad of Mona Lisa Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) [Billy Joel cover] Emperor’s New Clothes Nicotine Crazy=Genius Let’s Kill Tonight Drum solo: 24K Magic/Bitch Better Have My Money Girls/Girls/Boys Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen cover) I Write Sins Not Tragedies Victorious