A decade ago, Panic! At The Disco would have had a major credibility problem. Signed as teenagers two years ago to emo sanctuary Fueled By Ramen Records with just three songs to its name, the band was thrown onto the road before it had even played a single gig.
But even if the importance of indie cred weren't up for debate these days, Saturday's show at the Tsongas Arena showed that they're quick studies, growing by leaps and bounds as the band becomes more popular and more seasoned by touring.
Part of that stems from precisely what makes the band so maddening at times. Panic!'s songs are uniformly hyperactive, an impulsive barrage of id disguised by an overeager vocabulary as superego. It's that very intelligence, forceful if not focused, that drove a performance that seemed to be two or three stages evolved from the occasionally half-baked material on which it was based.
Perhaps out of contrition for the shoddy treatment by its own fans of recent tourmates the Dresden Dolls, Panic! presented its show as a decadent Goth circus, with contortionists, tumblers, and stiltwalkers constantly taking over the stage during songs like "London Beckoned Songs About Money Written By Machines" and "Camisado." Drums, cello, and a second keyboard sat well above the spectacle on giant risers, and the whole thing was capped with two big tops.
The sound in the arena was a mess, an undifferentiated muddle that made the band's already repetitious material all the more so and quashed singer Brendan Urie's voluminous lyrics, though the sold-out crowd knew them all by heart anyway. But Panic! soldiered through with a wit and a spark best captured in its version of "Killer Queen." It was a perfect cover, full of winking bombast, and the band nailed it. Panic!'s instincts are right on; all that's left is for its songwriting to catch up to its performance.
Filling in for dance-punks Bloc Party, who recently left the tour because of a health emergency in the band, openers Plain White T's capitalized on the simplest aspects of emo with no discernible personality.
Jack's Mannequin followed with enervating piano-based pop songs that aped the Fray almost perfectly, while singer and pianist Andrew McMahon posed and preened throughout.