SUNRISE, Florida — Somewhere amidst the pomp, circumstance, glitter, costume changes, drum lines, stilt walkers, contortionists, mimes and, well, more pomp, Panic! at the Disco kicked off their first-ever arena rock jaunt on Tuesday, cramming everything under the big top — including a big top — into the BankAtlantic Center for a rock show that was long on ambition yet short on, you know, actual rock.
Make no mistake about it, Panic! did manage to pack a few minutes of chord-crunching excellence in their hour-long set (“I Write Sins Not Tragedies” was all spiky fretwork and ripping choruses and “Build God, Then We’ll Talk” came unwound on a truly epic crescendo), but you’d be hard pressed to find an arena show in recent memory that featured more gloriously unrelated ephemera.
From the theme — early 20th century circus-meets-vaudeville-sideshow-meets-S&M sex club — to the group of dancers that joined the band onstage most of the night — including a corn-rowed mime, a tattooed contortionist and a dreadlocked dominatrix with a penchant for nunchucks — the show was an over-the-top jumble of performance art gone awry, the kind of concert that Panic! fans have grown to love and their many detractors have come to expect (and fill messageboards with vitriol about).
When taken as a whole, the show recalls no other traveling rock extravaganza in recent times. Rather, in terms of both context and content, it most closely resembled Janet Jackson’s audience-dividing, hypersexual 1998 Velvet Rope tour — all that was missing was a chair dance.
But maybe this is not such a bad thing. Perhaps Generation MySpace needs to get in touch with all those naughty things deep inside (taking pouty pictures doesn’t count). And maybe Panic! realized all this.
Then again, maybe not. Because on Tuesday, it wouldn’t have mattered if they were staging “The Vagina Monologues” (though, seeing them work mimes into that would’ve been interesting), their fans were still going to turn out in squealing, incredibly hyped droves for the show — and to be fair, most of them were probably about 5 when Ms. Janet went all kinky. They screamed for the drum tech. Screamed for the sound engineer. Screamed for the wave that broke out in the arena’s upper echelons. And boy did they scream when the calliope cranked up and Panic! took the stage.
Decked out in Colonial coats, gauzy ruffles and raccoon eye makeup, the band wasted not a second before launching into “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage,” with frontman Brendon Urie smirking and acting all sexy-like, guitarist (and, as is becoming more apparent, mastermind) Ryan Ross striking chords and shying from the spotlight, bassist Jon Walker giggling and drummer Spencer Smith sitting high above it all on a riser that doubled as a merry-go-round — and, inexplicably, rocking a fake moustache.
From “Sins,” they didn’t let up, aside from Urie’s occasional scripted banter — he acted as a sort of ringleader, welcoming the audience to a “spectacle of sights and sounds … they won’t soon forget” — playing through their debut, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out and adding a bounding cover of Queen’s “Killer Queen” and a churchly rendition of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” (which, strangely, elicited a pair of crowd surfers stageward) for extra padding.
And perhaps all that padding was the night’s biggest problem. Because when it wasn’t the covers, it was the mid-show intermission, the drum line, the ballerina or the guy in a leotard who prowled the stage like a lion. There were moments when Panic! seized the rock and didn’t seem prepared to let it go — until they inevitably would, and then a dude on stilts would amble on stage.
And, yes, it’s true that Panic! are unique amongst arena headliners in that they only have 13 original songs at their disposal. Ross made as much clear to MTV News when we spoke to him last month (see “For Next Tour, Panic! At The Disco Relying On … Motley Crue” ). But admitting you’re not ready for arenas and then trying to mask the fact with a bunch of poorly conceived gimmicks sort of takes the mystique out of the whole arena thing in the first place.
But perhaps that’s reading way too much into things. On this night, Panic! played valiantly and sent the crowd home happy — and a little hoarse. And, really, that’s what matters. Rock journalists can cast stones from afar. Haters can blog with a vengeance. But in the end, Panic! still control a vast army of very loyal — and vocal — fans, 12,000 of whom got to connect with their idols at a really big-ticket show on Tuesday.
Like Ms. Jackson said back in ’98, “We have a special need/ To feel that we belong/ Come with me/ Inside my Velvet Rope.”
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.