From dancing fire to a flying piano, Panic! at the Disco puts on a wild show in Milwaukee
If the exclamation point in the name doesn't make it clear, there's no subtlety whatsoever with Panic! At The Disco.
And that's why the pop-rock band was such a blast Sunday at Fiserv Forum, behind its most ambitious production, as part of the "Pray For The Wicked" tour.
A string trio established an elegant tone at the start Sunday — except Panic!, refreshingly, isn't into such seriousness. Within seconds and without warning, Brendon Urie — Panic!'s mall-punk-meets-Vegas-showman of a leader — popped out from below the stage like an Eggo shooting out of a toaster, sporting perfectly coiffed hair and tight black leather pants, and with a golden microphone in hand.
Once his feet landed on the stage, giant silver streamers shot out into the crowd for "('Expletive' A) Silver Lining," off last year's "Wicked," a theatrical album even by the 15-year-old Panic!'s standards, indebted to Urie's lead turn in the "Kinky Boots" musical on Broadway.
Fireworks erupted for the night's second song, "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time," both in the literal sense, and in terms of Urie's explosive voice. He effortlessly unleashed the first of dozens of wine-glass-shattering falsetto notes Sunday, amidst limber dance moves and poses galore.
That was the dynamic for much of the hour-and-fifty-minute show.
Flames danced to the rhythm of "Crazy=Genius," but the scorching three-piece horn section, and Dan Pawlovich's bombastic big-band-style drumming, burned brightest.
For "Casual Affair," Panic! had enough lasers and spotlights to put Trans-Siberian Orchestra to shame. But as cool as it looked, it sounded even sharper, thanks to that cinematic string trio and another one of those show-stopping money notes from Urie.
Panic!'s discography is practically all fast-paced, but even the "slower" parts of Sunday's show were presented with flair.
After walking through the crowd and posing for selfies as he sang the Sinatra-gone-pop-punk ballad "Death of a Bachelor," Urie sat at a piano on a secondary stage in the back of the arena that lifted up some 30-feet in the air. Gliding from behind the piano back to the primary stage, Urie played Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" — a song he said he learned to play with his mother when he was a child — which segued into his own "Wicked" ballad "Dying in LA."
Besides playing a few songs on the piano, Urie also joined Pawlovich behind a second kit for a smashing dual drum section for "Miss Jackson" that ended with Urie doing a backflip off the platform.
And while a few feel-good songs like "High Hopes" came with a higher purpose, the most resonant song Sunday was the bisexual rallying cry "Girls/Girls/Boys." During the song, Urie collected at least a dozen pride flags from fans in the pit near the foot of the stage and wrapped the flags around his body, while rainbow-colored confetti rained down inside the arena, and the word "Love" was splashed across the stage's big screens.
Between the sensational showmanship and dazzling spectacle, Panic!'s Milwaukee concert Sunday certainly merited an exclamation point.
And by the time a shirtless Urie belted out finale "Victorious," with confetti again ambushing an exuberant audience, Panic! more than lived up to the song title.
Panic had two openers Sunday that reflected two very different sides of Urie’s pop persona.
Two Feet (born Bill Dess) resembled Urie’s more cynical outlook, with anguished originals like "I Feel Like I'm Drowning" and a smoldering cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." What emerged Sunday that isn’t readily apparent in Feet’s short discography were his bruising blues guitar chops.
But I preferred the optimism of Australian artist Betty Who, who's been frequenting Milwaukee since the beginning of her career. This was by far her biggest audience here — and to be clear, not her audience — but she made quick fans at Sunday’s sold-out with little more than a winning personality, some synchronized dance moves, and smart, heartfelt pop songs.
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- Before Panic! played "I Write Sins Not Tragedies," the song that put the band on the map, Urie dedicated the performance to Leslie West, co-owner of the Rave. "She's a very special soul, a very special friend to me," Urie said. "She took a chance on this band that had terrible haircuts and really bad clothes when no one else would, and that was very impressive to me, and we remain friends to this day."
- Panic! did two other covers Sunday, of "The Greatest Show" from the hit movie musical "The Greatest Showman," and of what Urie argued was the greatest piece of music ever written, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
- In addition to the fans near the stage who showered Urie with pride flags during "Girls/Girls/Boys," fans held up special paper hearts over the LED lights on their smartphones, creating brilliant glowing pink, yellow and orange lights all around the arena.
THE SET LIST
1. "(Expletive A) Silver Lining"
2. "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time"
3. "Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)"
4. "Hey Look Ma, I Made It"
5. "LA Devotee"
8. "The Ballad of Mona Lisa"
9. "Nine In The Afternoon"
10. "One Of The Drunks"
11. "Casual Affair"
12. "Vegas Lights"
13. "Dancing's Not A Crime"
14. "This Is Gospel"
15. "Death Of A Bachelor"
16. "I Can't Make You Love Me" (Bonnie Raitt cover)
17. "Dying In LA"
18. "The Greatest Show" (cover of song from "The Greatest Showman")
20. "King of the Clouds"
21. "High Hopes"
22. "Miss Jackson"
23. "Roaring 20s"
24. "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Queen cover)
25. "Emperor's New Clothes"
26. "Say Amen (Saturday Night)"
27. "I Write Sins Not Tragedies"
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Piet Levy talks about concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9). Follow him on Twitter @pietlevy and on Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.