Live review: Panic! At The Disco bow out at AO Arena
By Jay Darcy
Earlier this month, Panic! At The Disco played their last performance at Manchester Arena. The tour was not billed as a farewell tour; Brendon Urie did not announce the “disbanding” until after the North American leg had finished. Instead, the tour was in support of the project’s seventh and final studio album, Viva Las Vengeance. In fact, Urie sang the entire album, from start to finish, slap bang in the middle of the gig – something I have never experienced before (and hope never to experience again).
The European leg of the tour featured Fletcher as a special guest. Fletcher had a meaty 45-minute, 14-song long set, which allowed her to show off her creativity and versatility. It’s rare to see an arena quite that full for an opening act; I think the only other time I’ve seen that was when Sophie Ellis-Bextor opened for Steps. I’m not sure if people got there early to see Fletcher or if they just wanted to soak in the atmosphere of Panic’s final gig, but what I do know is that the audience loved Fletcher.
I was unfamiliar with the majority of the setlist – but I was converted. Fletcher oozes charisma and charm, and her stage presence is spectacular. She’s also unashamedly queer.
Towards the end of her set, she covered Sza‘s ‘Kill Bill’. My mother professed she knew that song; I told her it was a cover. Fletcher’s penultimate song was ‘Becky’s So Hot’, a bold track about Fletcher’s ex’s (hot) new girlfriend. She then finished with ‘Bitter’, one of two Fletcher songs I already knew (alongside ‘War Paint’), and the most-streamed song where she is a leading artist. Her most-streamed song proper is Duncan Laurence‘s duet version of ‘Arcade’; as a Eurovision fan, I was disappointed she did not sing that live. You might say I was bitter…
Panic! At The Disco
Whilst the Manchester gig was the final show of the farewell tour, it was not any different to previous shows. The setlist was exactly the same, and Urie did not appear particularly emotional. He’s not much of a talker: he quickly said hello after the first chorus of the first song and didn’t talk to us again until the end of the second act.
The band (well, Urie and his touring band) opened the main show with ‘Say Amen (Saturday Night)’, followed by one of the project’s best-known hits, ‘Hey Look Ma, I Made It’. Their third song was ‘Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time’, a high-selling but low-charting promotional single, which goes to show how flawed charts are. After this, Urie took it back to the early days with ‘This is Gospel’ and ‘Miss Jackson’ (featuring LOLO), the latter of which is the lead single from Panic’s fourth album.
Urie ended the first set with ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. It was a mighty end to a set full of bangers, with flames lighting up the stage. I was gutted that I forgot to record the Slaytastic lyric, “I lost a bet to a guy in a chiffon skirt but I make these high heels work!”
Urie then performed the entirety of Viva Las Vengeance. All 12 songs. It was interesting watching the crowd slowly lose interest. Don’t get me wrong, they were still having fun and enjoying the music, especially because of the excitement of being at the final gig, but you could tell that they had had enough of VLV and were longing for the better-known (and just better) stuff.
I had listened to VLV, from start to finish, numerous times prior to the concert, as an attempt to force myself to like it, but it was futile. It’s a good album but it fails to live up to the majesty of Panic’s previous releases. That said, I enjoyed the album more when it was performed live, especially because of the production value (flames and lasers), and it was clear that Urie genuinely loves the album.
I used the loo during ‘All by Yourself’ (which masterfully samples Eric Carmen‘s ‘All by Myself’). When I returned, Urie delivered a mini speech, albeit the biggest of the night, including a line that will stay with me forever: “If you’re just joining us, welcome, and farewell”. The final song of this section was, ironically, ‘Do It to Death’. No kidding.
The track ends with a sample from the album’s title track, “Shut up and go to bed”, and I thought, “Shut up and play the hits before I go to bed!” Before the final act began, a girl who left my row during the first song of this act returned. Had she deliberately skipped the entirety of this section? Hilarious!
The final section began with the final song released whilst Panic was still a band: ‘Girls / Girls / Boys’. A recollection of Urie’s first threesome, Urie had previously referred to it as “barsexual”, not bisexual, but he later came out as pansexual and is now more in touch with his queer side. This performance featured an abundance of rainbows: moving images on the screen at the back of the stage, laser lights, and even confetti.
Members of the audience in the pit had different coloured paper over their phones so when they turned on their torches, there was a multicoloured ocean. They had previously done this with orange paper during ‘Viva Las Vengeance’. It was a cute, thoughtful gesture.
Next up was ‘House of Memories’, an album track from Panic’s fifth album (and first album as a solo project). The song gained popularity on TikTok in April 2022 and charted throughout Europe. In October, Panic released the song as an EP. I’m not on TikTok so I had no idea about this but I love the song and was glad to see it performed live.
Urie then took it back to the early days and sang ‘Nine in the Afternoon’, the lead single from Panic’s sophomore album, whilst the band was briefly called Panic At The Disco. It’s Panic’s second highest-charting UK hit.
Next up was ‘Death of a Bachelor’, one of my all-time favourite songs and my favourite English-language song by a male artist (probably just beating Nick Jonas‘ ‘Jealous’). It’s always cathartic seeing your favourite songs sang live. I had remained seated so far but I had to get up and boogie to this Sinatra-esque masterpiece.
“You may not know this one,” Urie laughed, before singing the band’s second single and first hit, ‘I Write Sings Not Tragedies’. Whilst this is the biggest song from Panic’s chapter as a band, it would have been nice for Urie to perform some more of the older stuff, if not because this is a farewell tour then because this was the final gig of the farewell tour.
The penultimate song was the vivacious ‘Victorious’. Whilst there was no encore, Urie, of course, ended with Panic’s biggest hit, ‘High Hopes’. I have high hopes that this is not the end of Panic; that Urie will resurrect the project after spending a few well-deserved years with his family – maybe even with some of the other original members.
Sadly, the concert lacked the gravitas I had craved for a farewell gig. Performing the entirety of the new album was a mistake, especially because Panic have so many other (superior) songs. I would especially have loved it if Urie performed ‘Into the Unknown’ (from Frozen), which he performed for the first (and last) time at the gig in Austin, Texas. Oh, and let’s not forget his camptastic duet with Taylor Swift: ‘ME!’
Also, as a theatre fanatic, I’m bitter I never got to see him perform ‘Roaring 20s’, which he sang at some dates on his previous tour. The album Pray for the Wicked was clearly influenced by Broadway (following Urie’s stint in Kinky Boots), but ‘Roaring 20s’ is literally about Broadway, with the first lyric being, “Broadway is black like a sinkhole”, and the final chorus giving the feel of a big Broadway number!
For all my criticisms of this gig, the first and final sets were immense, intense, and incredible, and one cannot fault the energy and production value of the VLV section (even if we criticise its existence).
You can stream Viva Las Vengeance below: