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No Place Like Home

The show was largely scripted, and in a way, Spencer Smith felt like his life was as well.

Two years ago at this time, Vegas pop rockers Panic at the Disco embarked on the band’s first full-fledged, big-budget headlining tour, an ambitious, choreographed spectacle more lavish than an acre of velvet.

Scantily clad dancers who practically writhed out of their own flesh?


A towering windmill prop?

Of course.

A wardrobe consisting of the natty threads of 18th-century French dandy boys?

As if you even have to ask.

It was a substantial undertaking for a young band still in their teens, a tightly rehearsed show that had as much in common with an off-Broadway production of "Cabaret" as a rock show.

It helped build upon the success of Panic’s hot-selling debut, "A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out," which went on to move more than 2.2 million copies.

But landing on the cover of Rolling Stone and becoming an MTV fixture has its price for a bunch of dudes who, at the time, weren’t even old enough to legally buy a beer: Everybody’s trying to figure you out before you’ve even figured yourself out.

"I think when you’re 17 and 18 and you’re doing an interview on ‘TRL’ or something, you don’t know how to act," says Panic drummer Smith from a tour stop in Vancouver. "You’re like, ‘I gotta try and be as cool as when I was watching my favorite band on television.’ You’re just so worried about it. I think we’ve gotten over that and gotten to the point in the band where we just realize, ‘You know what? We can’t be anybody but ourselves.’ "

All this is palpable on the band’s sophomore album, "Pretty. Odd," which was released in March and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart after selling close to 140,000 its first week out.

A loose, wide-ranging disc where the band pens its first near-ballad ("Northern Downpour") and guitarist Ryan Ross takes over vocals duties on the dusky "Behind the Sea," the album is posited on buoyancy and breadth, owing much to The Beatles’ broad-minded notions of what pop music can be.

As such, "Pretty.Odd" has met with much more favorable reviews than Panic’s debut.

"It surpassed our expectations with how well it was received, especially critically," Smith says. "Coming from the first record, we were in magazines and we would read articles about ourselves that would talk more about what our music should be called rather than what our music was. Now, it’s fun to be able to do interviews and talk about our music or what we were thinking when we were writing it."

The reception also calmed any nerves over the band’s future prospects.

"It’s been a little bit of relief," Smith says. "Coming from being off tour and just working on material and not playing shows for almost a year, there was definitely some times where you get a little nervous. You’re just like, ‘I loved the last two years of my life, it was amazing, I just hope that it can continue.’ And then to have the record come out, to be on this tour, I know it’s a little bit daunting to go on our MySpace page and look at our extensive touring schedule, but at the same time, it’s amazing to be able to think, ‘I can’t believe that we’re able to go to Australia and play to a few thousand people.’ "

Currently headlining the annual pop and punk-oriented Honda Civic Tour, the band is employing a more straightforward presentation this time around, eschewing the elaborate stage show of their past two outings.

"We’ve got less production because of the smaller rooms," Smith says. "When we were recording the new album, we tracked a lot of the stuff live with all four of us playing. I think we really realized how much fun we have playing together and how much tighter we’ve gotten just from having to tour as much as we did on the first record. We wanted the show to be about that and just the four of us onstage playing. It’s a lot less planned out."

Despite its strong start, "Pretty.Odd" likely won’t best the number of its predecessor, though few bands build upon their sales nowadays with such rampant downloading. It currently sits in the neighborhood of 500,000 copies sold, certainly a respectable tally.

And that’s fine with Smith, a genial, easy-going dude who’s not yet ready to exhibit any of the anxiety inherent in his band’s namesake.

"We’re not relying on record sales as a source of income, really. It’s amazing that we sell as many records as we still do," Smith says. "From this point on, we’re just going to continue to try and tour. We’ll see if any other song off the record goes to radio or does well. If it does, that’s great, but if we’re just having to play to a thousand people a night, that’s still a dream come true to us."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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