Culture / Entertainment

Panic! At The Disco Brings LGBT Pride to Houston Rodeo, Adds a Killer Queen Cover and Lots of Wardrobe Thrills

Gold Blazer, Gold Mic and a New Gold Standard — This is No Ordinary Cowboy Concert

BY // 03.03.19

Panic! At The Disco almost gave an edge-of-your-seat worthy performance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The only obstacle? A lot of the fans were out of their seats entirely, on their feet, dancing to the genre-defying act’s anthemic discography.

As frontman Brendon Urie sings, dancing’s not a crime.

Fans with high, High Hopes for Panic!’s performance weren’t disappointed. Over the course of 20-plus songs spanning an astounding four octaves, a certified backflip and a Queen cover that would make even Rami Malek do a double take, Urie and his black-clad bandmates put on quite a show.

It’s been over a decade since a Panic! tune dominated the Top 40 — before “High Hopes,” the last was “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” in 2006 — but the band’s come back with a vengeance. A “Victorious” one, if you will.

As the ever-effusive Urie croons in “The Ballad of Mona Lisa,” he’s pleased to please you.

Over the last 15 years, Panic!’s sound has evolved from album to album, shedding musical styles like so much snakeskin. Synth-pop, alternative rock, emo-pop, dance-punk. You name it, they sang it.

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What else would you expect from an act that started out as a Blink-182 cover band and cites both The Zombies and The Beatles as major influences?

Panic! dropped the exclamation mark, then brought it back. Urie traded in harlequin makeup, heavy on the eyeliner, for falsetto and fireworks.

But some things never change. Like Urie’s vocal flexibility, his clear-cut voice soaring into the stratosphere, his Broadway style stage presence — with the resume to back it up — and lyrics that are both dark in theme and Technicolor in sound.

Urie’s intimate-yet-operatic approach blended in with the band, with instruments from trombones to  violins and a trumpet for good measure. Throughout the Houston Rodeo performance, the band danced in sync.

Staring out, the Rodeo’s star stage was mostly black, with a few lights cast just bright enough so the fans could make out Urie’s silhouette dancing as the music picked up. As soon as the song started, the crowd erupted in screams.

The first song’s message? More of a warning. In “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” Urie hit the high notes as his carefully coiffed hair started falling. The first few chords are straight out of surf music.

The Ventures-style instrumentation contrasted the refrain “champagne, cocaine, gasoline, and most things in between” which the crowd echoed.

The NRG Stadium crowd lost it, just a few minutes into the concert, when Urie’s voiced reach that highest of notes. The tenor wasn’t tentative, not one bit.

It was just a hint of what was to come — piercing, glass-shattering notes during a bevy of different songs, all of which got that same shocked and congratulatory reaction. Each time, Urie would throw his head back, eyes closed as if the sound demanded it.

Some of the soprano moments were faithful to the radio edits of the song. Others were just some added flair to take the performance next level, surprising fans whenever possible.

Urie’s Power Pipes

Throughout the night, Urie sounded as pitch-perfect live as he does in the albums. But there’s something different about hearing it all in person.

At times, it was hard to hear Urie over the crowd singing along. If anyone doubted that Panic! could fill a stadium with their sound, their doubts were soon put to rest.

“It’s amazing to be here! Hello, you gorgeous creatures. How are you?” Urie asked, decked out in a black T-shirt under a gold-and-black patterned blazer and black leather pants so tight it made you wonder just how he was able to move the way that he was.

Urie showed off those serious pipes in “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” the second song of the night. The loose-limbed singer treated each and every song with the energy an average singer would reserve for a show tune. The crowd ate it up, singing along. Every song took on the feel of a ballad.

After each song, the 74,000 assorted fans — and not just who you’d expect, like the former theater kids present in black lace tights and ebony lipstick, but middle-aged men in cowboy hats bobbing their heads — gave rousing applause, treating every song like it was the last of the night.

Next, “LA Devotee,” then “Hallelujah,” the night’s first irreverent nod to religion, born of Urie’s rejected Mormon background. It comes up throughout many songs, from references to gold cathedrals to the Garden of Eden.

“We’ve got to do church. Brothers, and sisters,” Urie told the crowd.

The song’s a little less David played and it pleased the Lord, and a little more multitude of sins. But in lyrics and tempo, it’s undeniably uplifting. “All you sinners stand up, sing Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” Urie sang acapella for one verse as fans raised a single arm, swaying the way they would in a pew.

Panic! At the Disco Houston Rodeo
Panic! At the Disco have long been LGBT champions — and they made sure their Houston Rodeo concert reflected that. (Photo courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.)

Between each song, the stage would get nearly pitch black and a synth-instrumental interlude would play, adding suspense and amping up the crowd. There was no telling what was up next.

It was a carefully curated selection of hits, from “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” to the beloved “Nine in the Afternoon,” and “One of the Drunks.”

The mood shifted palpably for the jazzy, suave, stroll-slowly-in-the-rain jam “Death of a Bachelor.” Urie introduced it with a revelation that was fairly obvious. “I wish I were born Frank Sinatra.”

Urie’s voice glided smoothly over “Oh, oh. Seems so fitting for happily ever after. How could I ask for more? A lifetime of laughter — at the expense of the death of the bachelor.” The typically clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics of all the preceding songs gave way to more straightforward, sentimental ones. It was what you’d call a palate cleanser.

Urie would probably argue that aesthetics are key. He proved in in their colorful rendition of “Girls/Girls/Boys,” a catchy, judgment-free testament to respecting all sexual orientations. Urie himself came out as pansexual in July.

We’ve got to back up a little bit — when fans had first sat down hours before, during the rodeo portion of the day, they found little cut-out paper hearts pasted to the back of their seats. In some sections of the stadium they were green. In others, pink, orange or blue.

They all had the same instructions: at a certain song, hold the heart up against your cellphone flashlight.

When “Girls/Girls/Boys” started playing, fans did it. A sea of colors, all pinpoints of saturated light, covered the stadium, and rainbow colors were cast on the stage. It was a moment honoring Pride that Panic! should be proud of. The band’s long been advocates for LGBT equality — and they brought the mission to the Houston Rodeo with flair and grace.

Then, one of the two moments everyone was waiting for: “High Hopes,” a song familiar to literally anyone who has turned on a Top 40 station in the last few months.

The crowd carried the chorus, with Urie taking a backseat to dance and clap. “Wow!” he shouted at one point as the fans’ voices stayed strong, never wavering.

Urie kept things moving through “Miss Jackson” when he took a considerable risk when it came to his dance moves. All night long, he’d been crossing the stage non-stop, his hands never still, whether they were beating his chest or reaching out to the crowd. Now, he did a perfectly timed backflip.

It was the last “I love her anyway,” as he hit the high note, turned away from the crowd before flipping head over feet.

For awhile, it seemed like that couldn’t be topped. But then the lights went down a few songs later, only to go up and show Urie had traded his metallic gold mic for a seat on the piano bench.

It was time for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was initially uncanny — how close his voice sounded to Freddie Mercury’s, and the realization that the note he’d been hitting all night long was the one for “Galileo.” But Urie put his own spin on the rock classic with a little artistic license, emphasizing certain words.

Gold Blazer, Gold Mic

You could say that the following wardrobe changes were all a part of Urie’s art — his emerging from the dark in the black tee, sans sports coat. Or in “This is Gospel,” ushered in with “By the power vested in me by Panic! At The Disco…” when Urie somehow performed the magic trick of appearing in his Vegas-worthy gold blazer with no shirt underneath. The updated outfit garnered the reaction you’d expect.

When “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” finally came on, it was a thrill but this Rodeo concert had also been so good that no one would have been all that upset if Panic! had foregone it. “And now for the song that started it all.”

It was an earnest sing-along, with Urie backing out for one keyword, flipping his gold microphone away from the crowd and toward himself.

Urie: And yes, but what a shame. What a shame the poor groom’s bride is a:

Fans: Whore!

Urie raised his brows and smiled. “You said it, not me.”

It would have made for a fitting finale, but there was one more of the night — announced with the flash of fireworks all around the stage. “Tonight we are victorious,” Urie and the crowd sang in unison. The flair of the dramatic was met with quite a bit of fanfare.

The black Ford truck pulled up. Panic! at the Disco put on a hell of a show for more than an hour, and it was time to head out. But Urie had one more treat for the crowd — he slipped off the jacket as he got into the bed of the truck.

He was safe, though. He’s definitely not a bachelor.

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