Last Tuesday, April 4, I found myself heading last-minute to the BOK Center to experience a concert for three bands I’d never listened to. They were, in order of performance, Saint Motel, MisterWives and Panic! at the Disco.
The concert began at 7:00 p.m. and my friend and I arrived at 7:05, leaving us to feel like we’d already missed half of Saint Motel’s abhorrently short set. It ended at around 7:30, and I honestly don’t remember much of the performance. The songs all seemed like straightforward pop ballads. They did heavily utilize a saxophone and trumpet, however, so that was actually a real treat. In the second to last song the saxophonist went on a drawn-out solo that I could have listened to all night. I looked the band up before the set, and the first line of their Wikipedia article defines their genre as “dream pop” and “indie prog.” Hear it from me, those genres don’t describe even a single facet of the music I heard that night. There was nothing progressive or even indie about the performance by any stretch of the definitions. “Pop” seems rather appropriate, but the “dream” aspect was nowhere to be found with the band. Dream pop refers far more to acts like Panda Bear and Ariel Pink: cozy, bedroom beats with drawn out instrumentation and vocalization. To put it bluntly, Saint Motel sounded nothing like that.
The frontman of the band was quite irritating. He was the type that wanted everyone at his concert to be jumping and bumping and genuinely enjoying his set — which is fine, but the way he went about doing was just angering. He had us shake the hands of the people around us, knighted them as our “dancing buddies,” and made us all turn on our phone flashlights so we could throw our arms up to the beat. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like watching an entire arena throwing their fists in the air all at different tempos; the poor drummer probably had to keep his eyes shut.
They ended their set with a song that I actually recognized, “My Type.” The best part of the song by far is the saxophone and I can’t even recall any other details from its performance. I do remember how he demanded everyone stand up and dance, which I did not oblige.
The next band onstage was quite a bit better: MisterWives. That’s not to say that they were an amazing band, but their songs carried far more character. They had a female vocalist who reminded me of a Miley Cyrus with an attention-deficit order that ran across the stage so much the spotlight operator couldn’t keep up with her. A pretty ridiculous thing that she and her band kept doing was entirely over-the-top dancing. Like, some serious headbanging was taking place on that stage; it didn’t quite fit the tone of their music, at all. They seemed to think they were going way harder than they truly were.
Despite that musical misinterpretation, however, MisterWives had probably the tightest set of the night. A couple of songs towards the middle of the set felt fairly R&B-inspired, or like a modern equivalent of soul music, characterized by the understated guitar and the heavy focus on keyboard and vocals. Somewhere in there, they covered Chance the Rapper’s “Same Drugs.” For those songs, I was truly enjoying myself. As the set progressed, however, the band moved into another collection of guitar-driven, forgettable pop songs.
The vocalist took a few intermissions to discuss the “bonding power of music,” but after her last interruption they began the final song of their set. It was generic as the rest of the second half of their set had been, so I don’t remember any specific details from it save for another intermission they took toward its end. This time it wasn’t to preach at us, though, but rather to perform an awesome collaborative drum performance. The bassist, guitarist and vocalist were all given floor toms and sticks and, with these, they played a game of call-and-return with the drummer and percussionist. They kept a good rhythm going and it felt like a good way to end the set before they picked up their instruments again, played something real guitar-y, then walked off stage.
Throughout both of the described performances there was an insidious amount of references to Tulsa. Constantly, the vocalists would scream something along the lines of “lemme hear you sing Tulsa!” into the mic, often met with little reciprocation. They did, however, seem to be excited to tour with Panic! at the Disco. I suppose by some definition, that’s true success. Saint Motel mentioned how the last time they’d been in Tulsa they’d performed in the little ol’ Cain’s Ballroom, and now look at them playing in this huge arena. MisterWives made a similar observation, saying how they’d come from the Vanguard to the “bock” center. I may not enjoy their music, but good on those bands for succeeding and seeming to genuinely enjoy themselves on stage.
After both openers had retired, a few minutes of nothing happened. After those few minutes of nothing, another ten minutes of nothing happened, except during these latter minutes there was a ten-minute counter on the large screens surrounding the stage. It was around this time that I realized how thoroughly surrounded I was by 12-year-old girls. This should have been my hint as to what Panic! at the Disco was going to sound like, but in the moment it was only confusing me. Like, “what are all these tweens doing here?”
The only time I’ve seen bands with counters on big screens like that were from the times I’d been shipped off to church camp over the summer. Before every service they’d attempt to pep us up with a countdown to some awful Christian rock band. When Panic!’s counter reached an end and they began to perform, you couldn’t have convinced me that they weren’t an awful Christian rock band: the sound was practically the same.
I mean, I always knew that Panic! at the Disco was this hugely popular band, so I at least expected some redeeming factor to the performance. And yet, there was none, at least not musically. It was bland through-and-through; each song felt the exact same with the exact same verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus and I just wanted to fall asleep. I won’t fault him, the frontman was a very talented vocalist and he knew how to put on a show, but his music was just so unstimulating. It was obvious “pretty-boy rock,” most clearly determined by the droves of tweens that would literally turn and scream into each other’s face at the start of every song in the set.
On the subject of him putting on a good show, however, it’s clear that this is a very expensive tour. Between the pyrotechnics and the massive screens playing CGI to fit every song, a lot of money and effort went into this thing. In that regard alone, it was entertaining. I suppose I can also appreciate the variety of the set; he didn’t only play boring songs. He covered a Billy Joel track at one point and performed the cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the Suicide Squad soundtrack.
At one point, the screens behind the band played this weird short film as the frontman secretly walked around the entire outer edge of the arena and stepped out in front of our seats, where he approached a hidden piano and played a total of one song before hopping off. One of the most absurd images of that night was him sitting at that white and silver bedazzled piano and singing into a golden microphone. After that, he waded his way through the crowd while singing a song I assume was called “Death of a Bachelor,” which wasn’t too bad. As he made his way to the stage, he gave a lot of the audience members hugs or high-fives, dropping comments like “nice shirt” and “I really like that phone case,” so he at least seems like a genuinely nice guy.
To conclude, the entire experience of the night left me a little underwhelmed. Truly, though, that understates my discontent with the experience. The most tragic victim of the night was the guitar: boringly implemented in almost every song in every set with four-chord progressions or one-chord drives that served only as a cushion for the even less intuitive vocalizations and beats that were to be layered on top of it. When the Panic! pretty boy said something along the lines of “rockstars aren’t supposed to smile, but fuck it” it served as a reminder as to why rock and guitar music are slowly fading away. Not once in the night did I want to exclaim “oh, I really like that guitar!” and that should really say something. At some point, these pseudo-rock bands are going to realize that they don’t even need the guitar anymore and will dump that underutilized instrument on the side of the interstate. I’m not lamenting the natural progression of art and music — I’m not part of the “I was born in the wrong generation” crowd — I’m only wishing that we could give the guitar a more dignified funeral; something that doesn’t resemble thousands of people trampling over each other to touch the shoulder of some random guy singing some boring song.