NEW YORK — If Panic at the Disco didn't do a complete 180, musically and aesthetically, with their latest album Pretty. Odd., it was at least a left turn: Beatlesque arrangements, strings, horns, a pastoral vibe and wood-grain-and-flowers artwork that seemed to have come straight from late-'60s San Francisco.
So you had to figure that when the Las Vegas four took their show on the road, it would look a good deal different from the circus-tent hijinks of their last go-around — and it does. At New York's Roseland Ballroom this week, their latest stop as headliners of the 2008 Honda Civic Tour, the boys offered up woodsy set pieces, projections of flora and fauna, and mic stands wrapped in lights and flowers — behind which stood the green gentlemen, all decked out in vests (no velvet, thank you very much).
"We wanted it to be just us onstage. It's just more about the band altogether," bassist Jon Walker said when I sat down with the band on Roseland's roof Thursday night. Guitarist Ryan Ross concurred, "Basically it's more live. It's more about connecting with the audience and seeing what's gonna happen every night. It's not as scripted out and pre-planned. It makes it more exciting for us, and less monotonous every night."
Even Brendan Urie, the band's resident "showman," who shines in a simple way on the Bright Eyes-esque "Folkin' Around," is happy with the more back-to-basics Panic, and said he doesn't especially miss the over-the-top show. "We did it and it was a lot of fun when we did it, but this time around I think we wanted to get back to a more intimate, personal setting, and scale it down a little bit."
It's a refreshing turn toward "realness" Panic said they needed and wanted to make, and — at least judging from the packed show I witnessed — fans seem to be joining them for the ride, singing along with the words to new Pretty. Odd. songs like the rocking "She's a Handsome Woman," the galloping "Pas de Cheval" and the hit "Nine in the Afternoon" as enthusiastically as songs from the band's debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, songs Ross said they've "changed up" a bit to keep themselves interested in playing them.
Panic are out on the road through mid-June — and they are indeed green gentlemen these days. They've made this their most eco-conscious tour to date, as trumpeted in the tour program — which is printed on recycled paper, with soy ink — and the group has partnered with environmentally friendly groups and are even organizing an "eco-contest." Read more about that here.