No. 1 hit-makers Panic! at the Disco brought theatrics and pyrotechnics to NRG Stadium, heating up an otherwise cold and dreary Sunday afternoon at RodeoHouston.
Once associated with the emo-rock movement of the early-to-mid 2000s, Panic! grew into a monster commercial and critically acclaimed pop-rock act that now sounds like Bruno Mars if he grew up in the suburbs; loved tattoos; and wrote expressive, personal lyrics.
RodeoHouston announced a paying audience of 74,738, but there were a lot of empty seats in NRG Stadium on Sunday evening, which could be attributed to the cold weather or season ticket holders simply taking a break from a stacked concert schedule. Maybe they were still hungover from Cardi B?
But there were plenty of die-hard Panic! fans that showed up in force to see the band run through nearly 15 years of hits, including from their last two No. 1 albums, 2016's Death of a Bachelor and 2018's Pray for the Wicked.
Those two albums got most time in the spotlight —12 songs in all — over the course of the 21-song set and drew the loudest response from an enthusiastic crowd. The four piece drove up in a black SUV, joined on stage by a three string players and a three-piece horn section. Lead singer Brendon Urie, and the sole remaining Panic! member from the group's Las Vegas beginnings, emerged dressed in a gold patterned jacket and leather pants, ready to dance.
He also came armed with his greatest — some might say grating — weapon, a starkly high falsetto that he wasn't afraid to bust out throughout the evening, a trademark characteristic he's become known for throughout the years. His band — Mike Naran on guitar, Dan Pawlovich on drums, and Nicole Row on bass — locked into a professional groove over the course of around an hour and 15 minutes. But that professionalism made it feel as if everything was a tad choreographed and took away from any sense of unpredictability or grit that other shows at RodeoHouston offer.
Not that Panic! fans minded in the slightest. Urie is a born performer with a hint of that musical theater kid we all knew in high school, only he grew up and became the famous lead singer of a band. It shouldn't be surprising that the Panic! set included a show tune, "The Greatest Show" from the hit musical film The Greatest Showman.
Another cover song from a film that could be considered a musical made it onto the setlist in the form of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Urie impressively playing Freddie Mercury's piano parts while hitting Roger Taylor's notoriously high notes, calling it "the best song written by a rock band."
Other highlights included "Girls/Girls/Boys," an autobiographical song about Urie's bisexuality, the audience directed to hold up colored phone light filters, turning NRG into a giant LGBTQ rainbow flag, a welcome moment of diversity and inclusiveness. "(Say Amen) Saturday Night," a number practically made for college football broadcasts, made us all forget that it was a work night.
Any song that featured the entire repertoire of musicians on stage, horns and strings included, such as set closer "Victorious," were excellent. The biggest screams and biggest singalong came on Panic!'s career-making hit, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies."
One small criticism that seems to befall rock bands at RodeoHouston is how they use the fantastic, star-shaped stage design. Urie and his band, acclaimed for the creative visual set-pieces on their last arena tour, stayed within the confines of the rotating area onstage, not once exploring the five points that are capable of rising 30-feet into the air, something 2019 opener Kacey Musgraves used to her advantage. Maybe it's the experience built by country acts in the unique rodeo setup, but it would be great to see rock bands use the entire space at their disposal and bring a bit more intimacy to the concert experience.
That said, Panic! put on a clinic of what pop-rock bands can do in a big space, with pyrotechnics lighting up several songs and a lead singer who wasn't afraid to show off his multi-octave pipes. A shirtless Urie and a fireworks display to end the night left devotees more than happy as they filed out into the cold night air, an overall successful addition to the RodeoHouston lineup.
"Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time"
"Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)"
"Hey Look Ma, I Made It"
"The Ballad of Mona Lisa"
"Nine in the Afternoon"
"One of the Drunks"
"Dancing's Not a Crime"
"This is Gospel"
"Death of a Bachelor"
"The Greatest Show"
"Bohemian Rhapsody" (Queen cover)
"Emperor's New Clothes"
"(Say Amen) Saturday Night"
"I Write Sins Not Tragedies"