Last night I found myself in the middle of 5000 people watching a band and, to be honest, it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. Quite eye opening in fact, the band in question was Panic! At The Disco. I’m guessing that if you have teenage kids, who have at some point in the last couple of years ventured into the realms of “insanity” that most teenagers seem to do, you will be aware of them.
Now, at risk of sounding like my own Father, when I first heard about them – or I should say, the day my daughter walked into the house head to toe in Panic! merch, I took one look at the name and style and thought “Well, this is going to be crap” and wrote them off instantly. Over the following months, her songs made it on to our playlists in the car and I became somewhat of a silent fan. His voice, which originally annoyed me, now fascinated me. When I found out that for the last couple of albums it was basically a one-man band, my interest was even more peaked. I still didn’t really get it the levels of fanaticism my daughter was displaying, but the songs were catchy and most of them had a big chorus, and I’m a sucker for a big chorus.
For Christmas last year Lisa and I surprised the kids with 4 tickets to see Panic! in 2019. Tears were shed, mostly by me, because the closest one to us was the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. I’ve seen a few bands there before and never experienced a good sound – it’s a pretty horrible room, kinda square and solid, so the natural reverbs are pretty immense. The sound engineer must have felt his stomach drop an inch or two when he first walked in.
As the calendar flipped over more and more towards the date of the show, our daughter was almost becoming feral about the whole thing, which was confusing me enormously. But as it was to be her first proper gig I went with it and enjoyed her anticipation. Last Monday (25th March), after school, we jumped in the car and went to Cardiff for the show. We did our usual Cardiff thing and met a couple of friends I went to University with, had something to eat, a quick pint and then entered the arena. The first support band was on and I was instantly dismayed as the sound was exactly as I remembered. We kinda walked around for a bit and found the best place to stand so that we could see the show and the sound was at its least bouncy.
After another support band, the lights dimmed and at the back of the stage a digital clock began to countdown from 10:00 to signify the start of the show.As the the clock was getting near to zero I had my first proper look around and discovered that I, Jason Wilding, aged 45 and three quarters (in combat shorts and Empire Strikes Back shirt) was indeed stood stock in the middle of about 4750 teenagers, mostly female, and about 250 slightly bemused looking parents.
BOOM… lights down, show starts. For the first few songs I was just watching my kids – their first proper show – I marvelled in their reaction. My youngest was singing and dancing (unfortunately at only 5’1” they couldn’t see much) so was just enjoying the atmosphere and music and our eldest, 15 who is a good 5’8” or so, was in floods of tears and singing every word perfectly, and some of those lyrics go past pretty quick. I think it was about the third song that I had another look around and noticed that the vast majority of the people around me were in a similar state. The first thing that went through my mind was the pied piper of Hamelin, his control of the audience was complete and all he was doing was performing his songs.
The band itself was at core a three piece (drums/bass/guitar) all clicked with some substantial backing tracks happening. Sax and trumpet players on one side of the stage and a 3 piece string section on the other it was a very tight. Panic! At The Disco is now basically the singer, Brendon Urie, writing and recording everything. The band he has with him on tour are extremely tight and very professional. In terms of a band performance, I’d say it was flawless.
I think it was about the 6-7 song I noticed that one song was ending and another was starting without Brendon talking to the audience at all, but it was slick, a couple of seconds between songs and he was jumping around and dancing like a mentalist and performing at the peak of a man on the top of his game. The thing about Brendon that used to annoy me but now intrigues me is his voice, he gives what I call the full gambit of Barry’s. Low to high, he goes from White to Gibb constantly and is phenomenal. Whenever he went very high the audience went bat shit crazy encouraging him to do it again and again.
I think it was about 20 minutes from the end that I realised that I was at this point having almost as much fun as my eldest was (my wife and youngest had by this point gone towards the back) and totally caught up with the atmosphere and energy of the show. Although, being of the age I am, my back was hurting so, you know, I was just happy to be singing along and enjoying the spectacle of the whole thing. It was about 2 songs before they finished (the main set) when Brendon started to properly talk to the crowd and this was when it hit me, this man – right now – is in complete control of my daughter and many, many, many other people’s kids, and for a split second I was terrified. However, you know, I’ve seen Vai live enough times to relate to that feeling.
When the show was over we made it back to the car and I was looking around again, fascinated by all these young kids who were basically in some kind of euphoric trance. All I could hear, from every angle, was “Brendon did this” and “Brendon did that”… so I did that thing that all Fathers do at that point, I started to interrogate my eldest daughter. By the time I had paid for the parking and got back to the car our youngest was already fast asleep in the back (a talent inherited from yours truly, much to the annoyance of my wife) and the other was still buzzing.
As we drove out through Cardiff I started to ask her questions, probably something I should have done months ago, because I went into the arena as a fan of decent music prepared to be entertained somewhat, you know, it was for our kids mainly. But I exited a fan of the band and, more importantly, I left as a big fan of the band and a bigger fan of Brendon himself.
I asked the usual stuff, “why do you like the music so much”, “what’s so special about him”, “why do you think that demographic relates to him so much” and so on and so forth… and I was getting the same answer back and for virtually every question “He cares about us”. I soon realised this was going to be the answer to every question, which made me change track… “How do you know he cares about you?” I then received a master class in modern marketing and making your brand relevant to you audience. Brendon Urie, over the years, has had ‘issues’ – I’m not going to go into them here, but they are well documented if you care to search. It would appear that he is well on the path of coming out the other side of them – within his music he talks about his issues, how he got over them and how he moves his life forward.
He also (when not out on the road as much) does a lot of live streams talking about music and life, and all of it is overwhelmingly positive. He doesn’t care about people’s colour, creed, sexuality, class… anything like that, he just thinks that people are worth something and that they should love themselves and the life they live. He constantly communicates this to his fan base, which is overwhelmingly ‘millennial’ and they lap it up, as the world of social media and instant communication often leaves them feeling, well… shit. So, within his music and brand, he brings them up as much as he can. I like this attitude a lot, because as a parent you are painfully aware that as your kids get older you have less impact on their lives in terms of their self-worth and place in the world. On the flip side, I’ve also now realised that at times, Brendon Urie has my daughter in the palm of his hand in regard to her mental state. When she is feeling down his music – with the positivity it contains – brings her back up again. This scares me somewhat as he appears to be the kind of guy you want your kids influenced by, so right now him remaining like this is very important to me. If he were to let negativity overtake him, it would also have a negative impact on my kids. That is scary.
How the world has changed… when I was her age, all the music I liked was dark and designed to be hated by my parents. This band however, once you listen to them, is the exact opposite. Don’t get me wrong, she’s brought some utter crap in terms of music into our home over the years and I’ve diligently done my job by hating it, but right now, I’m a Panic! fan.
If your kids are into Panic! I suggest going with them to the show. The show will be enjoyable but that is nothing compared to the reaction of the kids that go to the show. Once you get over the fanatical hero worship levels of fandom (not that much different to when I first saw Iron Maiden in 1988 to be honest) you’ll see that music, in this instance, is doing exactly what you want it do – leaving the audience in a better place than they were in before they first listened to it. It’s safe to say that at times during the show it was the youngest I’d felt in years juxtaposed with feeling every day of my mid 40’s.
Oh yeah, this is a gear blog, right? Mike Naran – the guitarist - has a wonderful collection of weird and wonderful guitars and he was playing through a Kemper with no pedals. Sounded bloody awesome, no further comment required unfortunately, although I do think he’ll sound good with a couple of ours thrown into the mix.
Here are a few videos I shot on my phone on the night....