The current and recently departed members of the Las Vegas band Panic! At the Disco might not fully appreciate this analogy, but there was a time when you had to flip a vinyl album to finish the music. There was a break, midway, built right into the finished product, at which point you manually turned the disc over to hear it play out.
Panic has forged such a break, perhaps unwittingly, by splitting its lineup and creating a tangible shift in its heretofore rapid-rising career. Announced last month was the splicing of Panic with the departure of two members who have been on board for much of the band’s worldwide success. Gone are guitarist, vocalist and primary lyricist Ryan Ross and bassist Jon Walker, who have formed a new band called The Young Veins (TYV, as I’m sure they’ll be called by acronym-embracing music writers). Left to carry on with a refurbished Panic are singer Brendon Urie and founding member and drummer Spencer Smith. Replacing Ross and Walker, in what many fans will view as a sort of all-star lineup, are nimble guitarist Ian Crawford of The Cab, a Vegas band that has opened for Panic over the years; and bassist Dallon Weekes of The Brobecks, the Salt Lake City indie rockers who last year were named the city’s top indie pop band by Salt Lake’s alt-weekly City Weekly.
These guys are already accomplished musicians and have many fans, is the point, and the new lineup was unveiled for an appreciative-if-curious crowd at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel last night as Panic opened for No Doubt. The result brings to mind the title of Panic’s latest outcome. “Pretty. Odd.”
The absence of Ross, in particular, was felt. Ever since Panic ascended to worldwide fame and acclaim with the release of 2005’s “A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out,” Urie and Ross were the band’s recognized co-ringleaders, the public left-right combo that evoked style and sly humor, as shown in the video for “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” featuring a fun, highly styled circus/wedding theme. When the inspired piece was named Video of the Year at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, it helped cement Panic as one of rock’s top emerging acts. But last night, Urie carried the new Panic mostly on his own as the new lineup worked through material familiar to Panic fans. “I Write Sins” was in there, along with “Nine in the Afternoon” in a 40-minute set. The band came off capably, and loud of course (shows at the new Joint are consistently booming), but Urie’s vocals were inconsistent, his mix of crooning and shouting frequently soaring off-pitch.
Upon taking the stage in a charcoal-colored suit that whimsically reminded of the days of the Rat Pack (and also reminded of the type of look favored by The Killers’ Brandon Flowers), Urie referred to his hometown as “Lost Wages.” I’ll give him this -- only a Vegas local gets away with using that trite term in a public setting. A favorite visual moment was when Urie talked of the band “starting here five years ago in my grandma’s living room, just chillin’” and, in a handy piece of news for band stalkers, he offered that the bushy-maned Crawford lives on Mount Charleston.
Even as former Panic member Smith says all parties remain friendly fans of each others’ bands, there is bound to be continued fallout among factions of The Young Veins and new Panic factions. Both bands released new singles on MySpace on the same day last month (Panic’s “New Perspective” will be on the soundtrack for for the movie “Jennifer’s Body,” out Aug. 25). Given the raucous audience response last night, I get the sense that Panic’s following will allow time for growth in the band’s live act. As long as the fan favorites are churned out, the audiences will be sated. But a more important order of business will be Panic’s new album. While The Killers, Panic’s Vegas contemporaries, have created creative space to experiment with styles at the expense of uniformly positive reviews, a substandard Panic album with this lineup could cause … well, you know. Suffice to say, on the next long play, there’s not a lot of room for B-side material.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.