Keeping concertgoers guessing, each song carried a different stylized theme and ended in darkness, with the show stringing together a series of vignettes rather than one song flowing seamlessly into the next
There’s an old phrase, often repeated and rarely accurate, that goes something like “if you don’t like the weather in (insert literally any city/province here) just wait five minutes.”
Well, should you ever find yourself at a Twenty One Pilots concert thinking you’ve got a handle of the band’s sound or style, just wait five minutes. The Ohio-based two-piece seamlessly ranges from rock to rap to reggae, with dashes of piano balladry, toes-in-the-sand ukulele and industrial screamo tossed in, making the weather seem downright predictable by comparison.
The band cast an imposing image right off the bat, as a long black curtain cascaded around the stage, reflecting a wavering yellow glow reminiscent of the northern lights. Waves of sound reverberated around the room until the curtain rose to reveal drummer Josh Dune at center stage — face covered — holding a flaming torch high above his head before taking his place at the drum kit.
Behind Dune, a burned-out automobile rose from the recesses below with singer Tyler Joseph standing on its roof, a balaclava shielding his head, bass guitar in hand. Jumpsuit — off the band’s latest album, Trench — opened the show, its loud-then-soft dynamic injecting emotion, building up to a screaming clash of funky alt-rock. The car flared with fire, then disappeared from view and descended into the stage as the arena went dark.
Levitate came next, with Joseph’s rapping leaving some to wonder who had replaced him on stage after the initial banger, followed by the slick-sounding Fairly Local. Platforms rose into the sky on scissor lifts, pushing Dune and Joseph 30 feet above the stage before the vocalist suddenly appeared high above the crowd on the arena’s loge level, pulling off the balaclava to reveal his identity. It was as impressive an opening 10 minutes as you’re likely to see at Rogers Place all year.
Video screens showed a clip following the exploits of a floating red toque as Joseph made his way back to the main stage, then a red toque dropped from the ceiling, suspended on a wire like an old-time boxing microphone. The singer unclipped it and put it on his head, signalling the start of the group’s smash hit Stressed Out.
Bouncing across the stage and playing to the crowd, Joseph went straight-up acrobat, launching himself off the piano and then jumping back onto its platform to close out the song. Moments later, the instrument touched off Heathens — its instantly recognizable opening line “all my friends are heathens, take it slow” encouraging the crowd to sing along.
At its conclusion a booming unseen voice said, “Hello everyone and welcome to the Bandito tour. I’d like to introduce you to your favourite drummer in the whole world, at least for the next couple hours, Josh Dun.”
Joining him on stage, Joseph donned white sunglasses and a ukulele for the beachy, breezy groove Legend, another standout off the band’s latest album. The song was interrupted at the midway points by the explanation, “I wrote this song for my grandfather. He told me it’s worth it to fight to the bitter end,” with the context providing an extra touch of emotion for the song’s closing line.
The bouncy theme returned moments later with We Don’t Believe What’s On TV, its crowd choreography firmly in place with arm waving and “1-2-3, yeah, yeah, yeah” laying down familiar territory for crowd participation. Nearly everyone in the place waved those limbs, and even the stodgy holdouts gave in after the first couple minutes.
The Hype was played before a backdrop of accolade-filled headlines and newsprint, wrapping up the ukulele portion of the proceedings before the reggae-fueled Lane Boy. The crowd on the floor assumed a Kawhi Leonard-style crouch before leaping to their feet for the chorus as two hazmat-suited accomplices sheared the crowd with fire extinguishers during the song’s blistering breakdown.
Twenty One Pilots remained on the hip-hop groove with Nico and the Niners, playing against yellow accents and vulture images before a row of lights descended six feet over the heads of the patrons along the floor, creating a catwalk for Joseph to roam to a platform in the middle of the arena.
“This next part is my dad’s favourite, and not because of the songs,” Joseph said, taking a seat at the piano, and encouraged the crowd to do the same as Smithereens and Neon Gravestones slowed things down.
By that point it was apparent that each song carried a different stylized theme and ended in darkness, with the concert stringing together a series of vignettes rather than one song flowing seamlessly into the next.
The effect left attendees wondering not only which song would come next, but how it would be presented, what lighting effect a drum beat would make or how the chorus would shift the visuals, producing an anticipation rarely seen or validated among the current crop of bland, by-the-numbers concerts, where an artist merely appearing makes up most of the appearance.
But not Twenty One Pilots, playing to a crowd that tilted younger, with roughly two-thirds of those in attendance under age 21, several of them decked out camouflage with splashes of neon yellow. They swooned, screamed and sang along for more than two hours, running through a diverse catalogue of hits that continues to grow.
The crowd also got to participate in the action several times, holding Dun and his entire drum kit aloft on a floating platform for an all-too-brief Seven Nation Army cover, and doing the same for Joseph later on, clutching him by the ankles as he belted out the band’s fitting early hit Holding On To You.
The duo both stood on the crowd to end the night, pounding bass drums and turning the arena into a laser-soaked revelry of sight and sound with a blazing car backdrop as confetti cannons blasted off for the soulful closer, Trees.
And just when you began to think the scene was too much to take in, it was over, with Joseph reminding us “we’re Twenty One Pilots and so are you — we’ll see you next time!,” leaving the crowd satisfied and, unlike the weather, without a single complaint.
Twenty One Pilots
With: Bear Hands
Where: Rogers Place
When: Wednesday, May 15