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A decade ago I was a diehard Panic! at the Disco fan. Could their Auckland concert make me emo again?

Panic! At The Disco returned to New Zealand earlier this month, 11 years after their debut concert at Auckland’s St James. Reformed emo Alex Casey was there for both. 

In 2006, there was nothing I loved more than thrashing Panic! At The Disco’s much-loathed album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, and thinking crushingly earnest thoughts about how each hokey, cabaret fairytale song spoke EERILY to teenage life in Sandringham. Panic!’s gloomy, emo-era vaudeville world was one of Harlequin girls, shotgun weddings and rhyming ‘wet dream’ with ‘webzine’. My world was one of MSN Messenger, eating a nacho and doing my homework and that.

Pitchfork called the album a ‘steaming pile of garbage’. Others called it ‘obnoxious, terribly unoriginal’ and gimmicky, whiny, repetitious and pretentious’.

It was the best thing I had ever heard.

Most of the screamy emo music of the time, like Hawthorne Heights and Silverstein, was too scary for my fragile 15-year-old earholes. The whimsical likes of Panic! and Fall Out Boy were a nice trade off for wimps like me, too timid to hang out with the real emos outside Burger King. They provided just the right amount of teen anguish and imaginary heartbreak, deftly buried in pop punk songs that wouldn’t scare your mum too much when you insisted on playing your CD in the car.

Panic! in 2006: a hell of a time for hair gel

Every inch of me, from my platinum blonde and brown two-tone hair to my nose piercing done out the back of a dairy in Masterton was convinced I was going to marry the lead singer Brendon Urie, to the point where I guarded the band like a growling, plastic-jewellery covered Rottweiler. Here are some hugely illustrative, intensely humiliating MySpace blogs I wrote, just as Panic! were beginning to chime the fuck into the charts with their big gumby hit ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’.

And, wait for it, the classic sign off for any misunderstood MySpace teen in the mid-noughties…

Ten days later, I would not only *die* again, but sacrifice the space bar in lieu of some truly shocking capitalisation.

Despite having literally, medically, MySpace-ly *died* due to a band I liked finding moderate mainstream success, I was miraculously resurrected for their concert four months later at the St James. My similarly-obsessed friend and I planned an entire ritual that began 24 hours before the show. I asked her to recount the evening prior:

As it was 2006, there was also a mandatory, moody high angle photoshoot. The evidence has since been “lost” she “claims”, but I can tell you for certain that it involved screen-printed singlets and more than one pair of fake eyelashes. We ate a strict dinner of brown bread sandwiches made with capsicum and lettuce, avoiding all meat and dairy products as not to get struck down with food poisoning that could make us literally *die* before the headline act.

Cut to 11 years later: Panic! were returning to New Zealand to play Vector Arena – only one original member remaining – and I was going to try my best to return to those glorious, fangirling, humiliating days of my teens. Would I still like the music? Would there be emos in the crowd? Could my hair still handle that side part teased thing?

The first port of call in reliving the experience was to locate the singlets that we had painstakingly printed all those years before. In ugly bold Impact font, I emblazoned mine with lesser-known Panic! lyrics that only the diehard fans would understand, but not too obscure that it couldn’t just be a stand-alone phrase. It was a very delicate highwire act, being absolutely insufferable.

Artist’s recreation of my cool fashion line

Unfortunately, I had thrown out the singlet just last year after reading an article about that book about throwing all your belongings out in the name of joy or some crap. Thanks a lot, minimalism. Using nothing but the humble objects around my desk at The Spinoff, I endeavored to undertake the perfect Panic-inspired emo photoshoot before the show.

Attempt one: The recreation of the iconic ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ video using a top hat that we have in the office for normal reasons.

Definitely embarrassing asking a colleague to take these pictures, definitely scary that said colleague provided the 1 x white glove that was on their desk, also for normal reasons. There was no way I could go out wearing this, I looked, felt and somehow smelt like The Babadook himself.

Attempt two: High angle, weird twisty face, inexplicable claw hand selfie of yesteryear. Please enjoy 2007 teen in St Luke’s cinema toilet inexplicably holding doll vs 2017 woman in the work toilet questioning life choices.

It was deeply embarrassing, but it was effective. Using nothing but a rogue velvet bow left over from Christmas and a deep side parting that physically hurt to create, I had transformed into my 2006 self like a very disappointing Animorphs cover.

Where in 2006 I lined up outside the St James at about daybreak, nervously sipping on a stolen mini bottle of vodka, 2017 pre-Panic! was more about going to the Food Alley and eating a lovely red curry. Turns out it’s quite hard to take an emo selfie with a spot of curry.

The rice represents my aching heart

With some bamboo shoots in my belly and my hair naturally rejecting the harsh side parting on its own accord like Cousin It, it was time for us to head to Vector Arena to enjoy the pained tones of Brendon Urie and his noisy gang. In 2006, I remember feeling sick to my stomach waiting in the crowd, nervously adjusting my hair and face as if they were all about to knee slide out, engagement rings at the ready, and call the whole concert off for our group elopement. In 2017, I was thinking about maybe buying an ice-cream.

We scoured the arena fever for any remnants of 2006, hoping to find a Lost Prophet from the past lurking in the shadows. Alas, the crowd was indistinguishable in the most frustrating way possible, all smiles and ponytails. If you didn’t know who was playing, you wouldn’t be able to guess: it looked like a random cross-section of people who had lost their way on the way to the Kmart self-checkout. I grasped onto any shred of emo-dom that remained, glimmering through via the odd skull embroidered jacket, a once-stretched earlobe, and a rogue checkered sweatband.

The hunt continues

‘There’s some emo hair!’ my +1 gasped delightedly as we pounced towards this rare emo unicorn. This person had spiky rainbow hair and a dramatic side fringe! Could it be?! They slowly turned around like a villain in a Bond film. Alas, twas but a funky, funky mum.

I began to feel quite disillusioned in my quest, seeking resolve over at a water cooler by the bar. 15-year-old me would have been chugging down the dregs of their 5 ml of Vodka about now, 25-year-old me made an involuntary cooing noise at the sight of free chilled water. David Bowie crooned through the arena, “planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can dooooo.”

I tried to have an emo photoshoot with the water, but my heart wasn’t in it. I felt sad and washed up, 10 years stretching behind me like a long, raccoon print hair extension. 

Melancholic yet hydrated.

The lights went out and someone in the stands let out a blood-curdling scream. Possibly excited, possibly murdered like that scene in I Know What You Did Last Summer. Either way, I was certainly not going to look into it. Brendon Urie gyrated out, no top hat or eyeliner but definitely a shiny gold jacket. The new band members faded into the darkness but he was magnificent. My cold, dead heart jolted to life, and within five minutes I had done something I swore I wouldn’t do: fall back in love.

Feelin’ the Irie love

Look, I’d be lying if I said I knew any of the songs they played for the first half hour, haplessly bobbing around like an old dry turd in a lake to the likes of ‘Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time’ and other stompy bravado anthems which my +1 knew from her pump class at Les Mills. Between songs, flickers of their garbage first album bled through in transition tracks. Oh how I wanted the garbage.

“This next one’s old,” Brendon muttered…

Without warning, I dropped my bag to the floor, my mouth went all twisty and my weird selfie hand claw thing crept up. It was ‘Time to Dance’, a song from A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out about a woman who had been shot in the middle of a ballroom, with the excuse “boys will be boys” peppered throughout because everyone knows that shooting a woman is bantz in its purest form. Anyway, I lost my shit, releasing a guttural shriek before launching into a word-perfect rendition whilst all the teen Panic! fans probably filmed me in some kind of epic SnapChat fail.

I didn’t care. It was like a portal had opened to the past, and we were back in 2006 faster than you can say “my wife” (Borat, 2006). Despite referencing “cash me outside”, Trump and a whole lot of 2017 things that we’d rather forget, everything melted away when the recognisable opening twangs of ‘I Write Sins, Not Tragedies’ rang through Vector. It was time. I was ready to chime in harder than I’ve ever chimed in my whole friggin’ life.

Before and after hearing a song I knew

After the band wrapped up with a rogue backflip, a cringy but fun ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ cover and a fair few gold streamers, it was time to return to 2017. Or, according to the arena music, 1992 with a hilariously quiet version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ‘Baby Got Back (I Like Big Butts)’. Although there were only two songs played from my teen years, it still wasn’t a disappointing trip down steampunk memory lane.

I didn’t find emo that night, but I felt it. It was in the knowing glances between the people standing a little away from the mosh, some of which I recognised from days of MySpace past. It was in the shrunken legs of the crowd, perpetually misshaped from wearing black skinny jeans during puberty. It was even in that funky mum’s hairdo, whether she knew it or not.  

We left the arena satisfied, closing the goddamn door of our teens firmly behind us.


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