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Panic! in Toronto: Gospel for the Vagabonds


It’s a steamy Wednesday in Toronto, and inside the Molson Amphitheatre, the air is sauna hot. That is due in part to the temperature (86 not including humidity), but also due to the presence of one Brendon Urie swaggering across the stage.


I get there early, and am stuffing my face with an Oreo-encrusted chimney (a delicious spiral of vegan dough based on a traditional Hungarian snack) from a nearby food truck when opening act Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness takes the stage. Luckily, we aren’t far from our seats and get there with time to spare, otherwise I’m not above pushing people out of my way with my sticky cookie crumb covered hands. The amphitheatre is still fairly empty at the time, but McMahon (who I’ve adored since the early days of Jack’s Mannequin) makes the most of his half hour, pounding through a selection of his solo songs and genuinely looking pleased to be back in Canada. Following a flawless rendition of “Dark Blue”, he high-dives into an exhilarating version of “Synesthesia” that sees him running through the crowd (including the row behind me) before dancing with fans under a multi-coloured tent on the lawn, all without missing a beat.


McMahon does a fine job of getting the crowd worked up, but people don’t really melt back to life until just before 8pm when the lights dim and the curtains are raised and Panic! at the Disco emerges to the opening chords of “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time”. It’s been nearly ten years since Brendon Urie first got my teen heart beating faster, but it’s impossible for me to be at a Panic! show and not completely lose my composure (and, to a certain extent, my posture).


The set list is mostly made up of songs off of Panic!’s most recent release, Death of a Bachelor, and the stage, with its 1920’s art deco design, is the perfect backdrop to Urie’s hearfelt rendition of the title track, making you feel like you’re in an old-timey nightclub. The show is energetic and compulsively watchable: it’s hard to look away and even the most casual of fans find themselves showing praise with their bodies as the band shares their gospel.

this is gospel

Such is the power of Panic!’s performance that even some of my most skippable tracks—“Girls/Girls/Boys” and “Golden Days”—are received with enthusiasm and a new appreciation. Which, of course, means that the songs I love the most are transcendent, resulting in an almost out-of-body experience as I let go of any pretext of poise and rationality I might have possessed when I walked onto the amphitheatre’s grounds; my sister is concerned I’ll pass out from not breathing halfway through the set when three of my favorite songs—“Ready to Go”, “Nine in the Afternoon”, and “Crazy=Genius”—are played back to back, but I (just barely) manage to make it through.


The rest of the band is a talented group: from the trio of horn players who add to the overall cabaret feel; to bassist Dallon Weekes, an accomplished musician in his own right; to drummer Dan Pawlovich who holds his own against Urie in a drum battle, and guitarist Kenneth Harris whose solo during the group’s triumphant cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is something you have to hear for yourself. But the one who takes back the crown for Best Performer Ever is obviously Brendon Urie who makes backflipping-while-singing look effortless. There isn’t a lot of banter in between the songs, but when he speaks he makes it count: whether he’s advising you not to let anyone tell you “who the fuck you are” or sharing a sweet story about his “best friend”/former drummer Spencer Smith’s road to recovery, he makes the concert into a safe and accepting place for all.


As just another Panic! devotee, it’s a hell of a feeling to watch one of my favorite musicians play to such a big audience (the amphitheatre holds 16,000 people). While most of the crowd is there to see Weezer, the majority of people respond to Panic!’s energy, so much so that by the end of the set, Urie confesses to feeling drained (and loving it), something unheard of for someone as relentlessly animated as him. After leading the crowd in a massive “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies” singalong, he closes the show with a beautiful performance of “This is Gospel” in front of a stained glass window backdrop, and a glorious rendition of “Victorious”, before disappearing off the stage and building a place in your house of memories.


Hot on the heels of such an enthusiastic performance, Weezer is almost a disappointment. Their set is full of recognizable jams from the past two decades (I’ve known the chorus to “Undone – The Sweater Song” since I was about five) but they seem much more subdued after the razzle-dazzle of Panic!’s set. They’re entertaining enough, and the ideal band if you want to practice your air guitar moves, but if you’re looking for the time of your life, Urie and Co are your (green) gentlemen.


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