Maybe it's not possible to pinpoint the exact moment Brendon Urie became one of the best rock frontmen in America.
Take your pick of many mini-moments from Panic! at the Disco's concert Wednesday at Tampa's Amalie Arena, and it was probably something like that.
The moment he split-kicked up like a rocket from the stage on opening number (F— A) Silver Lining. The moment he rode a flying white piano the length of the arena, leaning precariously above the crowd to admire their handmade signs. Any moment his voice hurtled up to an interplanetary falsetto, yielding peals of squeals from an extremely sold-out crowd of more than 15,000 strong.
It's kind of magic, how he did it. Panic! at the Disco easily could have remained a relic of mid-2000s emo, little more than a beautiful guylinered memory. They could be That Band From That Song, the one about closing the g–d— door.
Instead here is Urie, 31, the last man standing from any version of Panic fans ever fell in love with, who has spent the last decade molding it into his image. And it's working: Panic is coming off two straight No. 1 albums, including this summer's Pray for the Wicked, and is selling out arenas all over the country.
If this makes Panic! at the Disco more a pop band than a rock band, so be it. The sprawling version surrounding Urie in Tampa included string and horn trios, feeding his hip-swiveling lounge-rock act and fleshing each over-the-top number into a work of theatrical magic.
You could still sense the faint heartbeat of a punkish kid beneath Urie's iridescent exterior. You could see it in the way he pounded out the jaunty piano chords of Nine in the Afternoon, his devilish enjoyment of wicked glam-rocker Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time; his show-offy drum solo on Miss Jackson; or his cathartic chords and whoa-oh-oh-ohs of This Is Gospel. The sinful swing of Crazy = Genius brought a chorus line of Mephistophelean fire behind him, a rock-star move if ever there was one. That, he followed with a cover of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which — as if you even have to ask — he absolutely nailed.
But it was the poppier, peppier songs where Urie shone even brighter than his pyro. When the lasers flicked on for the New Wavey Vegas Lights or LA Devotee, both Urie and the crowd were reborn in their Technicolor shimmer. The irrepressible Dancing's Not a Crime was practically a Broadway musical waiting to burst from the arena into the street. And say what you want about the state of the modern world world, but it's nothing that can't be cured by the sight of Urie floating up into the air on a white grand piano, warbling Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me.
Therein lies the other half of Urie's eternal appeal: he's a secretly sensitive cat attuned to the secret sensitivities of his fan base. That particularly applies to his fans in the LGBTQ community, of which Urie considers himself more than just an ally — happily married for years, this summer he proclaimed himself pansexual.
There were lots of rainbow flags in the bowl, and at least a couple made their way on stage and around Urie's neck during Girls/Girls/Boys. There was healthy bisexual lighting, magentas and indigos from all angles, and some swirling rainbows to boot. There was even at least one gender-flipped pop smash in Urie's splendiferous rendition of Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
A welcoming spirit also permeated the opening sets by Hayley Kiyoko and Arizona.
Less than a week removed from joining Taylor Swift on stage at her Reputation Tour, Kiyoko projected a peppery confidence throughout her set, twisting and hot-stepping something fierce to the quasi-Caribbean He'll Never Love You, and whirling an equality flag around her rainbow-lit closer Girls Like Girls.
In a set littered with glittering synth-pop hooks, Arizona made no such pronouncements, unless you count the Mexican flag worn and draped by guitarist Nate Esquite as a statement on the border war. (Arizona's actually from New Jersey, perhaps muddying the message.) But closing on a note of uplift and longing with Cross My Mind was nonetheless an inviting way to go out.
But it was Urie who gave the crowd their tingliest feelings of inclusivity – and it wasn't when he emerged shirtless for the encore to belt out Panic! at the Disco's first and biggest hit, I Write Sins Not Tragedies.
No, it came during Girls/Girls/Boys, the song where Urie found himself swaddled in rainbow flags, preaching the gospel of equality. Fans shone their phone lights through colored hearts distributed by section, creating a huge sparkling rainbow across the bowl.
"I've never felt more confident, and it's because of all of you," he said. "This is what I want you to know: You are more important than you know. Do you understand that? Everybody that you meet, anyone you come in contact with, you have an impact. And I believe in you for a positive change."
That's it, right there. If you're looking for a moment when Urie became the rock hero he is today, it probably looked a lot like that one.
— Jay Cridlin