A self-starter indie band reaching global stardom at an accelerated rate can be both a blessing and a curse. Several years in, Twenty One Pilots are still putting on an exceptional large-scale show to a broad, dedicated fan base.
The BBC Radio 1 tent at Reading Festival 2016 was my first exposure to Twenty One Pilots live – and it was an experience that is deeply ingrained in my concert memories. The entire crowd moving as one breathing, swelling entity, hanging on every command from Tyler Joseph. Sing, sway, hands-up, crouch down… wait for it…JUMP. The people by the stage were thrilled for their chance to carry Josh Dun and his small drum kit on their shoulders. It was audience engagement on another level. Then the festival frenzy kicked in – Tyler went into the crowd to reach a raised platform and some of the crowd ripped his shirt apart and grabbed a shoe as he tried to keep singing.
Since my Reading initiation, I’ve seen Twenty One Pilots at several New York and New Jersey area arenas. The duo consistently puts on a stellar show and Wednesday night at UBS Arena was no exception. The element of theatre is always present. They enter masked, transverse elaborate stage sets and drop into trap doors. It begins snowing, flames erupt and confetti cannons explode. Color schemes and iconography are an ongoing part of the Twenty One Pilots identity, with their Clique faithfully dressing in the color scheme related to every tour – red/black Blurryface Tour, yellow/green Bandito Tour and now white/blue/pink for Icy. It’s an event with planning from both band and audience.
Even so, their 2-hour show is packed with songs that even the casual listener will know from the radio, playlists or movie soundtracks. And if you don’t know them all, you’ll still be enticed to follow along.
Sound and vision are key components of the experience. Following an opening video of the duo in a blinding white tundra, Tyler and Josh ascended in a cloud of smoke wearing black knit ski masks with metallic framed eye holes before taking their respective places – Tyler at the upright piano and Josh at the drums. The adrenaline kicks in quickly, with Josh’s signature yellow drum sticks airborne and Tyler taking turns at his piano and the edge of the stage before retreating to a back riser. He emerges with arms raised, ready for “No Chances” from Scaled and Icy. Then, guitar in hand, Tyler moves into a snippet of Blurryface’s “Fairly Local”. Snow flurries magically start swirling and he is unmasked before the band launches into an early single, “Guns for Hands”.
The dramatic stage show soon transitions into a human connection with the crowd. Tyler jumps off stage and runs alongside the GA floor crowd, passing a gauntlet of outstretched hands and phones to reach a stage in the middle of the floor. This has always been part of the band’s culture. We are guys from Columbus, Ohio putting on a show – but we are not out of reach. Raise your voices, have fun, join in.
Back on the main stage a faux campfire scene was created with additional backup band members to fill in bass, keyboard, guitars and horns. I look to the back of the floor and a group of fans haved created their own electric campfire with a pile of phones, flashlights up – singing “We Don’t Believe What’s on TV” in a circle. It was a cool sight and they were truly enjoying the moment together.
As they say – “We are Twenty One Pilots and so are you.”
All Photos: Deb Johnsen