It’s been a hell of a year for hope – between Florence + the Machine’s High as Hope album and tour (which was recently extended – check out my post on Flo for some information on her vibes) and Panic! At The Disco’s hit single “High Hopes.”
If Florence Welch offers us the necessity of hope with a calm kindness behind her powerful voice, Brendon Urie reminds us that we deserve it. We’re entitled to have “high hopes for living.”
I saw Panic! At The Disco when they played the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, and I certainly didn’t expect the concert at which I ultimately lost my voice. In fact, I briefly thought that it might be best to bail; I was exhausted. Yet, I’d bought my tickets, had plans with a friend, and was curious about seeing Panic! in concert. Plus, being able to make a joke about “panic[!]king” in an Instagram post was an added bonus.
Set the Stage for Us, Okay?
The tour, titled for Panic!’s new album Prayer for the Wicked, brings this hope and energy to life as Brendon Urie bounces on stage from an ascending trapdoor, singing “(F*** A) Silver Lining.”
Immediately, the crowd roars, and Urie dances his way up, down, and around the stage. Flames burst up behind him throughout the show. A drum set ascends. No problem. Urie meets them all with grace.
“(F*** A) Silver Lining” swims smoothly into “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” off of the second most recent Panic! album, Death of a Bachelor, as if challenging the audience to not smile and sing along with Urie, standing like a beacon in his gold suit.
Panic! At The Disco has always appealed to the “emo” crowd, the folks that wanted to hear something different when they put in the headphones, something smart, something funny and ironic. You know, for the OG hipsters.
In fact, my foray into Panic! didn’t begin until I finished undergrad, but I was automatically amused and draw in by the fun of the first track of Pretty. Odd., “We’re So Starving”:
Oh, how it’s been so long, We’re so sorry we’ve been gone, We were busy writing songs for you
This then segues into the hit “Nine in the Afternoon” that is still a concert must-play (and was played in Buffalo).
We’ve Got the Scene. What’s the crowd like?
A rainbow covered the audience on both sides of the stage, as if an extension that Urie himself had acquired and was waving around during the song.
The point is, the crowd is typically – but not exclusively – humans who may have turned to Panic!’s music looking for something that other music didn’t offer them. Something that was in tune with what they were feeling rather than something that told them what to feel. Something… pretty odd.
By the same token, the concert showed a mass of people unafraid to express themselves. I was excited to see teenagers walking with rainbow and transgender pride flags. Yes, I said to my friend, This is a great place to be. It was so cool to see people comfortable enough to express that in this public place.
And it paid off. After crying watching Brendon Urie play the piano suspended above the audience while singing my favourite song on the new album (“Dying in LA” for those of you back home), the band then played their cover of “The Greatest Show” off of The Greatest Showman: Reimagined. (Yes, that sentence was a lot and a lot of exposition). Then, Urie began singing “Girls/Girls/Boys,” made famous as an LGBTQ+ anthem by this stanza:
Girls love girls and boys Girls love girls and boys And never did I think that I Would be caught in the way you got me But girls love girls and boys And love is not a choice
I soon noticed the rainbow forming in the crowd, changing colours level to level. At first, I thought that, somehow, the band had placed folks throughout the crowd with lights to make a rainbow. Then, I found the little orange paper heart under my seat, inviting me to hold it over the flashlight on my phone to join in on the effect.
A rainbow covered the audience on both sides of the stage, as if it was an extension that Urie himself had acquired and was waving around during the song.
It was such a vehement statement of presence, and Urie himself exalted the audience, saying how “beautiful” it was. As I later reflected back on the show, I thought of the younger audience members and how important it was that this concert offered validation of an existence still seen as controversial sometimes.
Not long after this, Panic! played “High Hopes,” and the audience all joined in with the refrain, which is not unusual for a concert, but, the narrative of “shooting for the stars when I couldn’t make a killing / didn’t have a dime but I always had a vision / always had high, high hopes / had to have high, high hopes for living” seemed so real among the people gathered, which is so important.
The narrative of hope, shouted by hundreds of voices in the KeyBank Center on January 10th, is always necessary, and it’s always important for those who might need it just a little extra; those who have been pushed down a few times and need a reminder that it’s okay to be pretty odd.
The Prayer for the Wicked Tour offers a place for authenticity in its fans, even among several hundred of our closest friends. Hopefully, that’s just the start.
Urie recently came out as pansexual, and his celebrity status skyrocketed to iconic for the LGBTQ+ community, and his openness and raw emotion with fans is venerable. Even his recent pleas for fans to stop kissing him as he’s walking through the crowd (which is a fair ask, and I certainly hope people listen to him) show his genuine nature. That’s something we need a little more of in the world. The Prayer for the Wicked Tour offers a place for authenticity in its fans, even among several hundred of our closest friends. Hopefully, that’s just the start.
In fact, Panic! At The Disco started the Highest Hopes Foundation, which, per Brendon Urie’s note on the band’s website, was “created to support the efforts of non-profit organizations that lead, develop, and advocate support for human rights. This is dedicated to all people + communities who are subject to discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation + gender identity.”
Urie also says that he was inspired by the “strength, courage, and motivation” he sees in his fans to start the foundation, and he later states that a dollar from every U.S. ticket sale will be donated.
I’ll leave you with Brendon Urie’s own narrative behind “High Hopes” from an interview he did when the single was released:
I used to keep my expectations so low so that I was never disappointed, and then in the last couple of years, something flipped for me where that wasn’t enough, that wasn’t satisfied. So I started to keep my hopes a little higher and just fail. I was just failing at everything I was trying, but I wasn’t sad about it. I was more just, I felt the challenge to accept it and see how far I could take it. And then once I did succeed, it felt so much greater.
From a Mix 104.1 Boston interview Urie did on June 22, 2018
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.