I’ll be the first to admit that seeing a concert at a club or small venue can best be described as that stereotypical “box of chocolates” – I just never know quite what to expect. Rarely does anyone get the chance to see artists or bands that are currently nestled at or near the top of the Billboard charts in an intimate setting where ticket prices hover around $25. I got that chance recently and decided to open that box of chocolates and found them to be truly delightful.
On Aug. 10, 2011, downtown Sacramento’s Ace of Spades hosted two of the biggest emo-pop (yeah, it’s a genre!) of the mid-to-late 2000s. Emo (short for emotive) is a type of music that relies heavily on expressive and personal lyrics and strong melodies. Bands including Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory opened the “God**** door” to the emo-pop scene in the months following 9/11.
Their style of music would ultimately pave the way for the evening’s main attractions; Patrick Stump — lead singer of Fall Out Boy, producer, and frequent collaborator with acts like Gym Class Heroes) and Panic! at the Disco – a multi-platinum band who began as a Blink-182 cover band before being heard by Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz who immediately signed the band to his record label and took them under the tutelage of Fall Out Boy.
Opening for Panic! was Stump, embarking on tour in support of his first full-length album, “Soul Punk,” which was released on Oct. 18, 2011. Free from the burden of dramatically high expectations that are inescapable when you happen to be the lead singer of Fall Out Boy (everyone exhale, I got the chance to interview Stump before he took the stage and the band is taking a “break, NOT breaking-up”).
Uniformed screams of “Patrick! Patrick!” by a sold-out crowd of 900 people preceded Stump’s long-awaited appearance. Finally, he shyly slinked onto the stage sharply dressed in a light blue suit and sporting a shy smile that made him look slightly embarrassed to be receiving all of the audience’s adulation.
Surrounded by his touring band, Stump wasted no time getting a guitar strapped around his neck and without so much as a “Hello Sacramento!” he launched his set with an enthused cover of David Bowie’s “Just Dance.”
If I were a betting man, I would wager that Bowie’s 1983 mega-hit pre-dated virtually everyone in the room but nobody seemed to care.
For 40 minutes, Stump managed to keep me interested and entertained, even though he played his new material that the audience and I had yet to hear. For “Everybody Wants Somebody,” Stump astonished me by breaking out a trumpet to play the song’s intro.
While a fan of Fall Out Boy, I fell in love with Stump – the guitar/piano/drums/trumpet playing musician, not just the lead singer.
Stump ended his set with Phil Collins’ song “In the Air Tonight” (if you’re a San Jose Sharks fan, then you are very familiar with the song, it’s played during every home game!) and his current single “This City.”
It was Stump’s best musical instrument that ultimately left the biggest impression and it wasn’t something he played. It was that voice! Hearing his effervescent voice at past “Fall Out Boy” shows and this evening’s funky, pop and R&B-inspired spectacle continues to give me goose bumps.
Headliner Panic! at the Disco has a lot riding on the success of their “U.S. Fall Tour 2011,” which they chose to begin here in Sacramento. “Vices & Virtues,” their third album released in February 2011, was co-produced by Butch Walker (who’s penned hits for everyone from Avril Lavigne, The All-American Rejects, Weezer and even Pete Yorn), yet after two singles and three headlining tours, the album has been commercially unsuccessful.
Panic! began the show with “Ready to Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)” – one of the first songs written by lead singer Brendon Urie following the departure of primary lyricist/guitarist Ryan Ross and bassist John Walker in July 2009. The song (featured during the closing credits of “The Smurfs” movie and three Diet Coke commercials) probably should have been left there to collect royalties rather than open their concerts.
It didn’t mesmerize the audience one iota.
Comprising the majority of the first part of their set were tunes from “Vices & Virtues.” The album has yet to produce a song with the same punch as singles from 2005’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out” or 2008’s “Pretty. Odd.” The absence of Ross’ songwriting prowess placed the burden on Urie’s shoulders (Walker and remaining band member, drummer Spencer Smith, were both given co-writing credits on a few of the album’s tracks).
A slice of old-school Panic! nostalgia finally seeped out during “Hurricane,” when Urie changed the song’s bridge of “You’ll dance to anything” to “God**** you anything.”
By the time Urie began singing “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” the crowd suddenly contracted disco fever singing along with the song’s memorable chorus (“I chime in with, haven’t you ever heard of closing the god**** door?”). Personal note to Urie – dedicating that song to your “sexy-ass mom” was pure Blink-182 inappropriateness.
“The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage” off of their debut album reminded me of what made them unique – catchy, fast-paced and often contradictory lyrics about everything from adultery to alcoholism to prostitution.
Panic! at the Disco, with Ian Crawford taking over as lead guitarist and Dallon Weekes playing bass, remain a solid live band and even better music video and large venue performance band.
Unfortunately, the small size of venues like Sacramento’s Ace of Spades prohibit Urie and company from dressing in their trademark baroque, fashionably elaborate outfits and also prevent them from utilizing their vaudeville stage sets that helped them gain notoriety while distinguishing them from mentors Fall Out Boy (the hoodies worn by Pete Wentz are the fashionable opposite to Urie’s top hats and walking sticks).
Panic! maintained energy deep into their set performing with a swagger that was amusing and pretty… odd (a music video from “Pretty. Odd.” memorably featured human beings inexplicably wandering around aimlessly sporting fishbowls in lieu of heads). Despite the absence of oddity, “Nine in the Afternoon” with its bouncy lyrics was sung exceptionally well by Urie.
The night just would not be complete without “Always” – a slow, simplistic and heartfelt ballad that I’ll admit had me swooning along with the crowd — and “Memories” – an homage to pop punk with its melodic verses and a soaring chorus that begged for and received an audience sing-a-along.
Panic! covering “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by a one-hit wonder band called “The Darkness” was the highlight of the evening for me, even though it was completely lost on the majority of the audience. I overheard one confused girl turn to her friend and ask her what album the song was off of. I couldn’t help but laugh!
The hour-plus set concluded with “Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met…),” which was probably the wrong concert-closer – a quarter of the audience immediately headed for the exit.
I can best describe Panic! at the Disco’s set as a Tootsie Roll Pop (the goal is to get to the center where the tootsie roll is, right?). It took a while of licking but finally Panic! led us to the center where we enjoyed the fruits of their labor. But in the end, we were left with a stick with nothing on it.
Standout songs: “Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia),” “Allie,” “This City” and “Explode.”
My final verdict: Loved it? Loathed it? Missed the Mark? – Loved it!
Panic! at the Disco
Standout songs: “Nine in the Afternoon,” “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” “Always” and “Memories”
My final verdict: Loved it? Loathed it? Missed the Mark? – I wanted to Love it, however it Missed the Mark!