Panic! at the Disco Unveil New Tunes in NYC

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Panic!'s Brendon Urie / Photo by Rebecca Smeyne
WRITTEN BY
John Macdonald

Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie might be forgiven for feeling a little panicky himself last night before his band's sold-out show at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom. Panic! would be debuting never-before-heard tunes from their third record, Vices & Virtues (due out March 29) – the band's first since 2008's Pretty. Odd., and their first without guitarist Ryan Ross, who left abruptly in 2009 with bassist Jon Walker to form the Young Veins.

This, in other words, would be their fans' first taste of the new Panic!, a preview of what might be next for these platinum-selling emo-poppers. But if Urie -- or fellow founding member/drummer Spencer Smith -- were nervous last night, it didn't show. Urie and Smith, along with touring guitarist Ian Crawford and bassist Dallon Weekes, were bundles of gracious energy, feeding off the ecstatic post-teen crowd and blowing through their short 13-song set with every ounce of energy that had been bottled up for two whole years.

Though Panic! only played three songs from their new record, they made them count. The new tunes split the difference between the Top 40 pop of their 2005 debut, A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, and the arch, drama-club vibe of Pretty. Odd. Though none of the tracks Urie worked on with Rivers Cuomo made it on to the final version of Vices, the songs Panic! blasted at the show had all the hard-candy hooks and Lite-Brite melodies of late-period Weezer.

To wit: "The Ballad of Mona Lisa," the record's lead single, released just yesterday. At the Bowery, Panic! swung the song's sinister faux-cabaret verses into an absolutely towering chorus -- "Wooooaaaahh! Mona Lisa! / I'd pay to see you frown!" -- and one that's destined to get blasted out of every sports bar and strip mall in the country over the next few months.

The suitably titled "Let's Kill Tonight" was another bid for the top. A chintzy, yet super-catchy dance beat crashed into one more arena-shaking chorus, this one replete with whining synths, epic guitar riffs (with a tinge of GNR's "November Rain"), and even a mini string section, which appeared with little fanfare, tucked into the back of the stage next to Smith's elevated kit.

Violin and cello added a nice touch to "Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)," a tune that came about as close to a power ballad as Panic! gets. Though, of course, the verses are still, as on "Mona Lisa," a heavily syncopated ode to burlesque. It's the chorus that swooned. "I got just one regret to live through / and that one regret is you," Urie sang with his hand (seemingly) on his heart, as the rhythm dropped to a stately half time and Crawford's guitar soared and crashed around him.

Urie -- clad, as usual, in black vest and white shirt -- and all his theatrics could grow a bit tiresome. You'll never see a rock star with such expert spirit fingers.

But he's also an expert frontman, and he knows how to keep a crowed titillated. Between a slew of old favorites -- "I Write Sins Not Tragedies," "But It's Better if You Do" -- Urie found time for an oddly appropriate cover of "Science Fiction Double Feature," a little piano ballad from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Though it was (deep breath) "Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off," or rather Urie's introduction to it, that got the most reaction from the young crowd. "There's a time for love and there's a time for lust," Urie helpfully explained. "This song is about the latter. This is about fucking!" After which all the girls crammed against the stage let loose a piercing volley of lust all their own.

One can only wonder what the handful of mothers hovering towards the back of the room thought of that, or another lyrical gem in "New Perspective" (from the Jennifer's Body soundtrack) -- which the band played as their sole encore -- "Can we fast-forward till you go down on me?"

Who knows. If they really paid attention to what's blasting out of their daughters' bedrooms, they'd know that Panic! only wants, as Urie sang on "Lying," to "get these teen hearts beating faster, faster." And in that, Panic! continues to succeed, even in this new phase in their career.

Setlist:
The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide Is Press Coverage
But It's Better if You Do
The Ballad of Mona Lisa
That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)
Camisado
Let's Kill Tonight
Northern Downpour
Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Science Fiction Double Feature (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
Nine in the Afternoon
Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)
New Perspective

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