Wow. Really. Two young men produced a piece of entertainment at the Vector Arena which took the notion of what a pop concert is all about and flew it to a different, compelling, and utterly engaging level. They had a packed arena in the palms of their hands, which is exactly where the audience wanted to be.
They are singer and instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, of Columbus, Ohio. They’ve been around since 2009, with four albums under their belt. They also have put together a show superbly blending song, video and stagecraft in a way that, to me at least, was fresh and new.
Twenty One Pilots are clever choreographers. For the first song, the dazzling video wall dominates, and they appear mostly in silhouette, Dun on his raised drum kit, and Joseph on a platform with the microphone dangling from a cable, or prowling the front of stage. Then as your eyes adjust you see his skeleton mask and body suit. In the second song, Joseph drapes what looks like a blanket or sheet over the front of his body. Dun has a mask at first. It takes several songs before you get a good look at the pair. It’s theatrical, and effectively teases the audience, and it works a treat.
And Twenty One Pilots have an unorthodox way of structuring their set list that keeps you wondering – in a good way – what’s coming next. One high energy hit ends, the stage quickly fades to black, and then the duo play a short reprise of the same song, but this time as a ballad. Often it’s excerpts of songs we are presented with, as a bridge from one part of the show to the next. The one cover, Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, is played solo by Tyler on ukulele, but again, only half the song is played.
On high energy songs the pair occupy the whole of the stage, but the drum kit is brought right up close to the keyboards, presenting an intimate setting, for a selection of ballads.
And make no mistake — these guys are showmen. Where else would you see a drummer stop playing in the middle of a song, pick up a trumpet to play and then sit down and resume drumming? Where else do drummers get up on the keyboard and do a back flip on to the stage? Dun does it all with muscular and athletic aplomb. Tyler moves from ukulele to keyboards to bass guitar to rapping seamlessly. He disappears at one point to appear at the arena. Both reinvigorate the art of crowd surfing. If you’re about to see them in Australia I won’t say any more, so you can still be surprised.
I am new to their material, but their songs, mostly from their latest hit album Blurryface, were catchy and melodic popcraft, with lots of rap thrown in – which most of the audience knew by heart. In fact the concert goers knew just about every word of every song and joined in, all the time. Tyler Joseph orchestrated them like a bandleader, and occasionally sat back and let them take over for a line or two, or three. When he asked them at the end “Do you have one more in you?” it felt like he genuinely wanted to know if they had the lung power to belt out one more song. They did.
The bottom line here is this is a band who present a whole show, not just a collection of songs. Ninety minutes flew by, but when this pair are the pilots, don’t expect anything else.