It’s been ages since I’ve seen an opener steal the show at the Santa Barbara Bowl, but that’s what happened last Friday night. In fact, the opener’s opener, Andy McMahon, who came on before Panic! At the Disco’s 19-song set, was no shirker, either. McMahon grabbed the usually laid-back early arrivers with an escalating sales job of singing, pounding, and dancing on the piano, and running around the inside of the Bowl. McMahon’s set concluded with “Dark Blue,” from his old band Jack’s Mannequin, and a torchy tribute to his daughter, “Cecilia and the Satellite.” Bowl early birds were impressed.
By comparison, however, Panic! At the Disco turned them into obsessives. Screaming whenever Utah-born rocker Brendon Urie turned on his falsetto, the fans knew every word and inflection in the Panic! songbook and sang along sweetly. Urie taps into (and refreshes) the abandoned world of prog rock, a fact amply underscored by his note-perfect cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But the band doesn’t feel derivative: Opening with “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time,” and moving through almost 20 songs in an un-frantic hour, Urie’s storyteller talents sharpened as evening melted into darkness (and the light show dazzled), especially with “Girls/Girls/Boys” and the croony “Nine in the Afternoon.” Urie loves Frank Sinatra, according to arch fan Nicole Arnold, and has enough heart for the heartthrob job. He does a mean backflip, too.
Headliner Weezer went stationary for the first third of their set. They came on with a nonstarter, “California Kids,” but rapidly deployed “Hash Pipe,” which lit up the crowd. But they remained staid on the silly stage set, which was beach party themed and had drummer Patrick Wilson in a lifeguard tower sadly reminiscent of 1970s Surf Punks shows. The low point was a medley of middle brain songs such as “Dope Nose” and a wooden version of “Island in the Sun.” The band won everybody back with a psychedelic “King of the World” melding into “Only in Dreams.” At this point they felt like a hardworking band, not a hit machine. The group has aged, but the party they eventually unleashed was real and inevitably a nice topper to the brainier joys of Panic! At the Disco. And everyone seemed unthreatened by good times, anyway.