The Honda Civic Tour
Panic at the Disco, Motion City Soundtrack, The Hush Sound, Phantom Planet, Blackgold
Philadelphia, PA • May 9, 2008
Rain or shine, the tickets said. They weren’t kidding. The clouds were a shade of grey that I’ve hardly ever seen (let alone described), and the rain just kept falling. Yet, The Honda Civic Tour was going to take place on the Festival Pier, regardless of the weather. So I pulled on some rain boots and headed down to the riverfront.
By the time I got there and made my way through security, the place was bustling with people in slickers and rain boots, eager to get a good spot near the stage. A band called Blackgold was finishing up their set. After they finished, ads began blaring over the speakers, talking about the pros of owning a Honda Civic and the mission behind the tour to help save the environment. Though trying to be effective, the ads came across as a bit cheesy and didn’t seem to grab the crowd’s attention — until a video was shown starring Panic at the Disco’s frontman, Brendon.
Phantom Planet was up next, much to my surprise. The LA alt-rockers played the first four tracks off of their new CD, Raise the Dead, on Fueled by Ramen Records. I guess I haven’t been following bands’ record label movements as closely as I thought, but I digress. The new tracks were nothing like those from their prior releases, but still had a good tempo capable of keeping the drenched crowd’s attention. The band ended with the track that will forever be associated with them — “California” from their release, The Guest, which served as the theme song to the television show, The O.C. While some bands seem to be agitated playing the one track that is often associated with them, Phantom Planet had no such hang-ups.
Next up were Decaydance recording artists, The Hush Sound, from Illinois. I had seen them about a year ago in the same place and the band sounded just as they had the last time, except they had a new album to push. When the vocalist asked if the crowd wanted to hear some new tracks, someone in the crowd shouted, “I don’t.” Rough, but this band doesn’t seem to have the same marketable pop-rock attraction as other bands of the similar genre in this city.
Motion City Soundtrack followed suit, appearing on-stage with a smoke-filled entrance and some sweet guitar riffs. As soon as the band took the stage, the crowd gave their undivided attention, singing along to the new track from their latest release, Even If It Kills Me. They played tracks like “Make Out Kids” and “Fell in Love Without You” right before some kids in the crowd found themselves on the ground. The music stopped mid-chorus, and Justin asked the crowd to help them out to ensure they were safe. Once everyone was good, the band picked up without so much as a word out of place. It was almost like hitting pause on a CD player (or whatever medium you choose to listen to music on). Their keyboardist pointed out that “since we’ve been touring, Philadelphia has always been one of the best cities.” This caused the crowd to scream in approval.
Motion City Soundtrack continued their set list with tracks like “This is for Real” and a few others. They ended with the obvious “The Future Freaks Me Out,” which has rarely ever not closed the set. It usually evokes a lot of emotion from the audience and gets the crowd to participate. This time, however, the song lacked its usual luster, falling flat. The tempo seemed a bit off and the crowd didn’t have as much punch as the song normally brings out.
Up until now, the set-ups had been moving fast — roughly 15 minutes at the most. However, Panic at the Disco took a painstaking 45 minutes to appear after MCS. Normally, I (and the crowd) wouldn’t mind, but with the rain and cold, people seemed agitated. Even the chants for the band didn’t have the same energy as usual. I had seen the Vegas pop-rockers at this very venue a year ago. It’s amazing how one album, one punctuation mark, and one year can change everything. Panic at the Disco (note the drop of the !) recently released their sophomore attempt, Pretty. Odd, with the first single “Nine in the Afternoon.”
The new album has a new sound — it’s more mellow and less in-your-face. Having seen their dramatic stage presence last year, I was eager to absorb the same energy, considering the rut the weather had left the audience in. However, the band seemed a bit more raw, less polished, and way less dramatic. They played new tracks like “Nine in the Afternoon” that are still pop-infused but don’t have that dramatic flair that the band was associated with. Maybe they’ve grown up…but either way, the show didn’t have the same effect. The band also played tracks off their debut release, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, such as “But It’s Better If You Do,” “Camisado,” and even “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies.” The harmonies were tighter, and the solos were more impromptu than their last performance. They even had some random fireworks in the night sky, though unlike their close to the Fourth of July performance last year, there was no reasoning for fireworks on a cold rainy night.
The band began to chat with the crowd, asking for a trip to the beach. While some fans were hanging on their every last word and singing to every track, others didn’t feel the same way. After the band played “I Write Sins, Not Tragedies,” a large group of people began to leave the show. Was it that the old tracks seemed a bit more raw or maybe it was the weather? Either way, the band didn’t seem to have the same appeal to the crowd as they did one year ago, and it showed with the audience participation. While Panic seemed to put more effort into their performance, they didn’t have the same level of dramatic flair that demanded all attention, with pop-infused hooks that would be stuck in your head for days.
I wouldn’t diagnose a case of sophomore slump — I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think some may just have been attracted their previous image, and the band has evolved into a new sound and new look — sans the exclamation point.
Either way, the tour was focused on not only bringing people together to hear music, but also to encourage a more environmentally-friendly outlook. Let’s hope the crowd walked away with something.
To see more photos from the Orlando date of this tour, go to www.jencray.com.
The Honda Civic Tour: civictour.honda.com