Panic! At the Disco/The Academy Is...
It seems the UK indie scene has a lot to learn from America... standing outside waiting to go into the gig I realise that Panic! At the Disco and The Academy Is... aren't just some unknown American upstarts trying to crack the UK, it seems they've already arrived in force to a legion of hungry adoring fans. Various songs were being whistled, hummed and sung all along the enormous queue and the air of anticipation brewed amongst the hair-straightened crowd.
Calling themselves the 'original children of myspace', both Panic! At the Disco and The Academy Is... amased hundreds of fans through the internet and even without much airplay in the UK still have a big following. This is probably because the music can speak for itself in an increasingly commercialised 'scene'. Unlike the majority of whining English 'indie-rock' bands these guys can really sing, and live as well! Their songs don't rely on a single jangly guitar riff to carry the song, their guitarists really know their instruments and the songs themselves are well constructed and interesting, not just radio friendly drivel.
First up were support act Junior Varsity, although they were a great band I was probably least impressed with these guys. Musically they were truly inspirational, their lead guitarist could take on Steve Vai in a duel any day, and that was just while he was playing rhythm parts, his solos were stunning: not just widdling around, but actually musical and with melody and structure. The other musicians were also extremely talented, the only letdown was the vocals. The singers voice was good, but the way the songs were written he just seemed to drone on a bit for a bit too long. Junior Varsity seemed to have the longest set of the whole night, it dragged a little. I'm looking forward to hearing some recorded work by them though as I think it'll sound much better on a CD.
Next up were co-headliners Panic! At the disco, almost as soon as JV had left the stage the whole crowd surged forward and the bar emptied. It was almost as if these guys were the main attraction, and even when speaking to The Academy Is.. after the show they were worried that Panic were a bigger attraction than them! I was really surprised when the band themselves were setting up their own equipment on stage. There wasn't really a start to the set, they just stopped line checking amps and slipped into the first song. From that moment I was entranced.
The lead singer Brandon sung as if he was telling us all a story, his vocals coming out crisp and entrancing. He played the crowd like he played a riff on his keyboard, expertly and passionately, but with a smile. The songs were put together like orchestral pieces, weaving sections and melodies together expertly. Whilst being complex and sometimes challenging to listening to, they didn't go on too long and still had catchy sing along chorus parts. Everything was also motored along by a fantastic drummer, keeping up a stong and rock-solid disco groove throughout the set ensuring the crowd kept bobbing along. The drummer, and indeed the rest of the band, also impressed me a lot with their ability to play along to a backing track for a lot of songs. This wasn't your usual mime along to a CD affair though, the backing provided rich synth textures, synth drum rhythms and occasionally even synth parts. The songs even changed time signatures but the band were always locked to the rhythm, very impressive!
The only let down was the length of the set, it seemed it was ending far too soon, possibly because it just seemed to fly by, but also because of lots of technical problems. I found out later that between them the three bands only had one snare drum for the whole tour and they were having problems with it (as this was the first night of the tour I hope they manage to find a backup) which meant Panic! had to cut their set short. During the problems we were treated to one of those rare impromptu moments: Brandon had to entertain the crowd and as he confessed, he didn't know any jokes, so he treated us to a lovely rendition of a Casey and JoJo ballad from the early 90s, which despite the age of the crowd some people seemed to know. He then got the whole crowd to sing Britney's 'Hit Me Baby...', it was a lovely moment, and more than made up for the problems.
Last on were The Academy Is... and what an entrance it was as they had 'Final Countdown' playing before they launched into their first song. The first thing you notice about The Academy is the singer's ultra camp glam rock posturing and incredibly tight tshirt (although the girls seemed to lap it up). Then after you notice that you notice the rest of the band are all wearing the same apart from one of the guitarists, who looks like he's stoned and playing guitar on another imaginary planet. But none of that mattered really as the set got into full swing. Like Panic! the songs were all intriguingly written but slightly more accessible and catchy, especially Black Mamba and The Phrase That Pays.
The two guitars in the band did seem unnecessary at times, most of the time the sound was more of a wall and I noticed both players were strumming the same chords, it's a lot easier to tell them apart on the record. The singers voice also troubled me throughout, I couldn't make up my mind whether it was weak and quiet or angelic and honey coated, in the end I just decided he had a good voice but needed to be turned up a bit. This was confirmed with a solo rendition of one of the band's new songs (to be released on a new album in August I found out from the band later), which was a soulful but catchy number. Later in the set they also played the new song 'Fever' which had a much harder rock feel than the first album.
The audience banter seemed a bit lacking for the first half of the set with the singer relying on the old favourite 'So, are you having a good time?' more than once, but as they got warmed up and the songs flowed, things seemed a bit more natural. This was the first night of their tour so the bands were still finding their feet a bit I think but nevertheless it was an awesome show! Fans of Academy is should look forward to the new album as it appears edgier than the first, and I'd recommend everyone check out some songs from Panic!, perhaps on their MySpace profile, where it all began.