During a brief pause in Panic! At the Disco’s frenetic Sunday evening show at a sold-out Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square, vocalist Brendon Urie paid tribute to closing act Weezer. Urie learned to play guitar and drums to Weezer’s self-titled 1994 debut, aka the Blue Album. Being on tour with Weezer this summer is a “childhood dream,” he gushed. “I’m the still the biggest fanboy.”
Maybe so, but Urie did his heroes no favors. Instead, he laid bare their shortcomings.
The energy onstage and in the audience, which skewed heavily millennial and younger, during Panic! At the Disco was electric. Sweating profusely in a leopard-print shirt, blue-gray sharkskin jacket and black leather pants, Urie was a dervish, a force of nature chewing up the stage, more than capable of carrying the show himself. He even had the gumption and skills to pull off a faithful “Bohemian Rhapsody,” channeling Queen’s late Freddie Mercury, one of the greatest frontmen of all time.
Weezer mastermind Rivers Cuomo, by contrast, is the anti-frontman. That the singer/guitarist is chronically uncomfortable in his own skin translated to the stage. Following PATD, Cuomo and company came off as flat; many of those young fans who had responded so enthusiastically to PATD drifted off to the long merchandise lines during Weezer.
Urie is the lone holdover from PATD’s mid-2000s formative years in a Las Vegas suburb. He has reshaped the band in his image, even as he has evolved and matured. Panic presented itself Sunday as a decidedly contemporary, polished rock band that understands the value of showmanship and sweat.
On an especially humid night outdoors at Champions Square, bassist Dallon Weekes and guitarist Kenneth Harris toiled in black suits, shirts and ties; drummer Dan Pawlovich skipped the suit coat, but still rocked the button-up shirt and necktie.
They were the visual and sonic backdrop across which Urie blazed like a shooting star. In its normal range, his voice recalled that of Brandon Flowers, the singer in another Vegas-born band, the Killers. The similarities were especially apparent on “Ready To Go (Get Me Out of My Mind),” which Urie concluded with an un-Flowers-like falsetto.
Not content to simply sing, he took a turn on a piano for “Nine in the Afternoon.” He flipped his golden hand-held microphone. During “Crazy=Genius,” with its cheeky big band swing and references to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Mike Love, he engaged Pawlovich in a drum battle, more than holding his own on a second kit. During “Miss Jackson,” he executed a backflip off the drum riser. He crooned like a Vegas showman, backed just by three horns, in the early going of “Death of a Bachelor.”
Barely 24 hours before Sunday’s show, a gunman killed dozens of patrons at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Urie made indirect reference to the tragedy in a defiant prelude to “Girls/Girls/Boys.” Who anyone wants to love, he asserted in more frank terms, is not the business of those who seek to “strike fear.” To them, Urie continued, “I say, ‘F--- you, come at me.’”
Just to attempt “Bohemian Rhapsody” requires a certain amount of moxie. But Urie went full-on Freddie Mercury, working a piano during the opening segments, turning Harris loose to riff and solo like Brian May, and preening and prancing. He prefaced “Bohemian Rhapsody” with a disclaimer: “I wish I could have written this song. I never could, and I never did. But we’re doing it anyway.”
He didn’t write it, but he and his bandmates more than did it justice. Grandiosity suits present-day Panic! At the Disco.
Weezer might have benefited from a dose of grandiosity. Thirty minutes after PATD, the curtain parted to reveal a beach-themed set to match the cover of the current self-titled Weezer album, aka the White Album.
In keeping with the theme, Cuomo wore a Hawaiian shirt, buttoned up nearly to his neck. Compared with Cuomo, the similarly bespectacled and reticent Fred Armisen seems as randy as David Lee Roth. Cuomo was even less charismatic than at the 2010 Voodoo Experience in City Park. He seems to have regressed.
The lack of energy and engagement was obvious from the opening “California Kids.” The huge riffs and beach balls of “Hash Pipe” sparked a bit of excitement, which the third song, “My Name is Jonas,” quickly extinguished. It’s rare for several thousand concert-goers to be as a quiet as the crowd was after “My Name is Jonas” — unless you waited until after “L.A. Girlz,” the fourth song. That silence was even more uncomfortably deafening.
And so it went for another hour. Second guitarist Brian Bell, drummer Patrick Wilson and bassist Scott Shriner seemed undeterred. They played well — although Wilson and Shriner seemed to get lost during a vocal breakdown in “Pork and Beans” — and were far more animated than their leader. Bell nailed the talk-box guitar solo in “Beverly Hills.” Shriner told a story about getting engaged in New Orleans. The Panic-like “Thank God for Girls” and the breezy “Island in the Sun” had their moments.
But unlike Panic! At the Disco, Weezer’s performance felt like a recital of singles rather than a continuous, coherent and compelling show. Cuomo finally cracked a smile in the encore’s “El Scorcho.” More widespread joy broke out during the concluding “Buddy Holly,” an unrelentingly upbeat anthem and surefire crowd-pleaser.
New Orleans was only the third stop of a 42-date co-headlining tour featuring these two bands. It’s going to be a long summer for Weezer if they don’t find a way to light a fire before “Buddy Holly.” Maybe Urie can lend them some matches.
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.