Live: Panic! At The Disco – HMV Institute Birmingham, 3/5/11

The sweat. The adrenaline. The screaming teenage girls. Oh it’s certain, Panic! At The Disco are back in town and they are better than ever. Vices and Virtues is a great return to form for the guys, especially after the Beatles-inspired trainwreck that was Pretty Odd. The departure of Ryan Ross and Jon Walker certainly hasn’t hurt Brendon Urie and Spencer Smith in the slightest, instead inspiring them to create awesomely catchy tunes with a hell of a hook. But can they still cut it live?

Before we could get down to business, London louts Love Letters lumbered onto the stage. From an aural perspective, they were relatively competent, playing rock and roll inspired electropop. However visually, they were a complete shambles. The lead singer clearly looked like he should have been passed out back surrounded by beer cans, wearing shades on a dimly lit stage and with a terrible 80s look. Duff McKagan can pull it off still, this guy couldn’t. At times, it was also highly uncertain whether or not he was miming – it could have been some clever effect pedal. This element still ruined the set for me, proving that Love Letters rely on over-production even on stage. The music itself is pretty catchy, the performance extremely uninspiring. They’d be perfect for Radio 1 but not much good elsewhere.

And then Panic! At The Disco get on stage and bring it. Although nowhere near as elaborate as some of their previous shows, Panic! clearly still have an eye for flair and showmanship as Urie bounds on stage, dressed in white and black, bow tie on firm and a backdrop containing the new logo flourishes dramatically behind Smith. After all, if there’s anything we’ve learnt since Panic! last graced the stage, bow ties are cool. The band immediately break into new single, Ready To Go, an absolute anthem in the making. The band are happy, eager to be back on stage and it shows – the screams are momentous.

I’m going to take a break from music for a paragraph to just emphasis how LOUD that screaming was. And teenage. And kind of weird considering that most Panic! fans are now about my age (I’m getting towards 21). The sheer enthusiasm in that crowd was awesome, if a little intimidating. I personally know the trials and tribulations of appropriate gig behaviour and when to throw it out of the window. I know that my fellow writer Kitteh was not impressed. I kind of get the hype. Not going to lie, Brendon Urie and co are looking gorgeous still. It’s easy to forget that Panic! are still in their mid-20s, despite their insane talent. Fangirls being back in full force was an interesting experience, perhaps not one I would repeat quite so readily though.

But back to Panic! now, the balance of material was excellent. There was a great mix of old and new material, picking the best songs from each album, but left Time To Dance out. Crucial mistake? Not so much, considering their inclusion of Camisado, a song I’ve always felt more suited for the dancefloor. Only two of the singles from Pretty Odd made an appearance, which I expected and was more than happy about. An unexpected Smiths cover proved interesting and signifies a return to one of Panic!’s favourite features in their live shows. Urie showcased his musical talent, flitting from the keyboard to the guitar to timpani, and every member, including new friends Dallon Weekes and Ian Crawford, getting a go at the drumming. It is this that makes it more of a show than a concert as everyone moves frenetically across stage, giving it their absolute all. The sound quality was more than awesome in songs, but Urie’s stage banter came across somewhat more unclear. But we didn’t need to hear him talk to know that Panic! were having a great time there. As a quick grin from Smith to Urie showed, Panic! love what they do and in turn, we absolutely love them. Charming as ever and fantastically fun, Panic! At The Disco, and their reintroduced exclamation mark, have an extremely bright future ahead of them.

Live: The Midnight Beast – HMV Institute Birmingham, 16/2/11

The Midnight Beast. It’s very hard to escape that name if you are a British teenager. A YouTube phenomenon, the comedy troupe have taken the internet by storm. Trending on Twitter and garnering over 250,000 fans on Facebook is quite the achievement in our new cyber-age. Naturally though, YouTube can no longer confine them and it’s up to the live arena to show us just what The Midnight Beast is all about. A sold out tour all across the UK confirms that YouTube just isn’t enough – The Midnight Beast are more than just a passing craze.

The minute I entered the HMV Institute, I was aware of two things. Firstly, I was the oldest person in the room bar parents. At twenty years old, this is a highly impressive (or pathetic, depending on your viewpoint) feat. Secondly, over eighty per cent of the audience were female. Perhaps the pull of Ashley Horne and Stefan Abingdon (Dru Wakely doesn’t seem to be gathering quite so many fans amongst the ladies) is just too much; a ridiculous amount of cheerleading outfits, eyeliner hearts and initials on cheeks and shrieking that could pierce even the hardiest of eardrums is commonplace across the floor. Maybe it’s my hardcore sensibilities. Maybe it’s because I knew that I was never quite that irritating in my teenage years. Either way, I could have decimated half of the audience there and then. What had I let myself in for? My sister and I stood, trying to spot the scattered males in the room, groaning every time a new girl squealed. The band weren’t even on yet and it was fast approaching 8. A range of school disco tunes – The Vengaboys’ classic Boom Boom Boom – filled the floor. Everyone was singing and dancing. Was I a scrooge for not joining in? Quite probably, but I was far too irritated to debate it. Doors opened at 6:30, what was going on?

I spoke too soon. The most horrendous ‘rapper’ strolled onto the stage, pet DJ in tow. ‘DO YOU LIKE TINIE TEMPAH?’ Hype Man Sage screamed, before proceeding to take a huge shit all over a Tinie Tempah song. There were vague hints of original material, but they were mediocre at best; a ‘comedic’ song about bouncers barring you from clubs because you’re wearing shiny white trainers was the only thing I really remember, and it was pretty bad. At one point, he asked us all if we liked dubstep. Everyone shouted yes. I’m surprised most of these kids know what dubstep is. Or was it just the excitement? The anticipation, calling them to agree? Or desperation, to get him off stage? I know that was my reason. Ludicrous.

And finally, The Midnight Beast rose to the stage, launching into latest single, ‘Just Another Boyband’. Dancers in tow and everything. The crowd went wild. I could barely see anything for a sea of arms raised high. I could barely hear anything for a while for the two girls directly in front of me screeching ‘OH MY GAAAAAAWD!’ at each other. But apart from that, it was pretty sweet! The skits work well when transposed to the stage, with fake katanas for ‘Ninjas’, a couple of male cheerleaders for ‘Booty Call’ and more make the whole thing seem just as fun and just as silly as on the internet. The Midnight Beast sadly don’t have a large amount of material, possibly making this tour seem a bit premature, but they still managed to fill a set despite having to rely on the covers (although of course, Tik Tok is what they’re known for) and a couple of the smaller skits such as ‘Walk With Us’. Interestingly, ‘Use Ya Head’ didn’t make the cut (it was pretty dire). The boys themselves seemed to be loving it, in their trademark jerseys and children’s t-shirts. It’s clear that they are enjoying every minute; the screaming fangirls blissful to their ears, if not to mine. Debuting some new material, with guitars and basses and everything(!), they couldn’t have seemed more happy. It was infectious. The finish on Tik Tok, their most famous song, could probably be heard echoing around half of Birmingham. And it was good.

Eventually, I found myself having a good night. Is it the Year Of The Beast? According to the calendar, yes. Do I see The Midnight Beast lasting past this year? It’s hard to say. YouTube fame can be shortlived; the minute a group gets it wrong, they drop instantly off the page, never to be heard from again. However, from what I heard in Birmingham, The Midnight Beast are definitely getting it very, very right. Here’s hoping that as they progress, their audience might grow up a little bit too.