A few years ago, I was just scrolling through some videos on Instagram and I stumbled upon a Panic! At The Disco fan page. There was one specific post that was a short clip, just of Ryan Ross, their former lyricist and guitarist, singing “Well, I’m afraid that I-“. That was it. Me, thinking it was just a performance of “But It’s Better If You Do”, disregarded it for a little while. Some time goes by and something triggered my mind back to that clip. Why was Ryan Ross singing that song to begin with? What was the context? Is there a live version of it that I don’t know about? That was one of my favorite Panic! songs anyway, so I decided to do some investigating.
After going to YouTube and typing in “Ryan Ross Well I’m Afraid That I”, I clicked on the first video that came up and again I found a clip again of just him singing that part. How anticlimactic, I thought. I had hit a dead end, and where better to look when you’ve got nowhere else to go? The comments section of course. So, after sifting through comments on what others thought and how they miss the old band and the era this was recorded in, I came across one that actually said where this clip comes from. The full version is from their Live in Denver documentary filmed in 2006, and it’s a cover of “Karma Police” by Radiohead. My excitement was through the roof.
Firstly, being a Radiohead fan, especially of OK Computer, I was really looking forward to hearing Panic!’s take on the song. This was during their tour for their debut A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, which many will remember as being incredibly theatrical, with makeup and costumes galore. Their music at this time was heavy with various theatrical influences as well, and it made me wonder how true they were going to stay to the original song.
With lead singer Brendon Urie on the piano, Ryan Ross on guitar, drummer Spencer Smith keeping the pace and bassist Jon Walker in the mix, the band fit the song perfectly to their sound. The original is dark and rather somber, almost creepy. Their version keeps the same melodies and rhythms but applies a more upbeat feel to it all. It sounds exactly as if it were their own song featured on their debut album, not a cover of any sort. The songs goes along smoothly, until we get right to the end, the instrumental and Urie’s vocals builds up, Ryan Ross sings “Well I’m afraid that I-“, and the song ends easily, with Urie reiterating “Well I’m afraid that I, I lost my self”. The former is their own bands reference whereas the latter is from the original version, seamlessly blending the two bands and their two concepts together.
Covering a band as well known and well praised as Radiohead is a tricky business, especially coming from a band that was deemed overtly dense and saturated in theatrical instrumental. Being rather new to the music scene probably didn’t help, but they got it right with this one. By keeping certain aspects of the original song the same and molding it specifically to what they sounded like at the time, they made a widely recognized song sound like it was originally theirs to begin with. Including some of their own lyrics and adding it to the existing ones helped too, and I’m just hoping that one day, we can get the original Panic! At The Disco lineup to perform together again.