The duo behind the band Twenty One Pilots spent much of Saturday night at Golden 1 Center wearing ski masks over their faces like they were dressed to rob a liquor store. But all they stole were plenty of hearts during their high energy, rapturously received two-hour set. And judging by the epic lines for T-shirts, they apparently made off with plenty of loot from merchandise sales as well.
Twenty One Pilots brought a boost of electric-youth energy to a concert lineup at the 4-month-old Golden 1 Center that’s so far seen plenty of classic rock and legacy acts. The tonsil-shearing screams heard around the sold-out Golden 1 Center on Saturday were the kind usually reserved for the Justin Biebers of the moment. But in this case, the arena-wide freakout was all for Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun – the Grammy winning pair known as Twenty One Pilots.
Massive sing-a-longs were the norm. So was a lot of jumping in place on the main floor, with Snapchat feeds chronicling the action for those stuck home without a ticket. Driving it all was a string of radio hits – “Heathens,” “Lane Boy,” “Stressed Out” and more – that are built on a fairly seamless splicing and dicing of various pop genres.
It’s a big sound for just two guys (and presumably a bunch of backing tracks), who hail from Columbus, Ohio. Dun held down the drum kit, while Joseph sang, played piano, and occasionally thumped a bass and strummed ukulele. The instrumentation is akin to The White Stripes’ minimalism, but under the direction of the iPod generation.
Their compositional process is like cherry picking moments of electronic-dance-music abandon, Eminem-inspired rap flow, piano pop a la Elton John or Ben Folds and folding them into a single catchy song. In concert, the approach made for a fun and stylish show with an air of unpredictability. During “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV,” Dun suddenly started to blow a trumpet while Joseph played a ukulele and sported a kimono.
The two went full tilt in their performance. Dun backflipped off the piano during “Holding on to You,” and Joseph spent much of the show springing around the stage when he wasn’t parked on the piano bench. He also took a tour over the top of the main-floor crowd while inside a giant hamster ball. The effect looked pretty neat as Joseph rolled over those outstretched hands in the crowd, though the trick wasn’t too original. The Flaming Lips pioneered the oversized hamster ball prop back at the Coachella Festival in 2004.
The two hour show also might have benefited from a 15 minute edit. An on-stage Mario Kart video game battle kind of sucked the momentum following “Guns for Hands.” The set was also a little too heavy on cover tunes, including a segment with openers Judah & The Lion that veered into wedding reception territory with renditions of “Where is the Love” by Black Eyed Peas and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”
But this crowd was not about to sit still, whether it was dancing to catchy synthesizer sounds in “Tear in My Heart” or swaying its hands during a somber cover of “Cancer” by My Chemical Romance. By the numbers pop music, Twenty One Pilots was not.