Creating an image around a band can be a blessing or a curse. For Twenty One Pilots its definitely the former, with the red, black and grey of their latest album Blurryface, being carried through to everything in tonight’s show.
From the backdrops, to the pre-performance lighting, the main show lighting and even the outfits and head-torches used by the road-crew. Everything has been thought about, planned and carried out. And that’s before we speak about the performance itself. In lesser hands it could look formulaic. But not in this case; these boys have studied their craft and really know how to deliver.
Before anything started, the anticipation was palpable with spontaneous Mexican waves and phone torchlight shows from the crowd. But once the house lights dimmed and the drop snare break of opening track Heavydirtysoul rang out, the crowd lost complete control, and it’s a long time since I’ve been to a gig where the crowd knew EVERY lyric and every nuance of every song played. And this remained the story for the next 90 minutes hours as Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun treat the Portsmouth collective to a slightly extended set, courtesy of this being the final date of the tour, all backed up by light show that must have required a small power station to illuminate.
Coming onstage in a full skeleton outfit, Tyler bounces around the stage like a slightly overactive child, not knowing which toy to play with. Piano, to suspended radio mic, to front stage platforms and back to the piano again, the energy is infectious, albeit hard work to photograph as you just don’t know what’s coming next. After the opener its straight into the huge radio hit Stressed Out and the first of many outfit changes.
Gone is the top element of the skeleton to be replaced with a blanket, whilst Josh on drums remains covered by a hood and an alien mask. Given there’s only the two of them, there’s a strong reliance on backing tracks through the set, but that doesn’t distract from what’s going on, and the combination of performance, lighting and a really eclectic range of songs from hip hop through rap and light hearted pop keeps everyone lost in the moment of what’s happening onstage.
Guns For Hands is the first song from 2013’s Vessel and it’s a noticeable change in style from the more recently material – lighter and possibly more appealing to some of the audience, its followed by a number of tracks from that album including Migraine and House of Gold, all of which the crowd turn into a singalong. But what makes a Twenty One Pilots show so unique are the changes that get brought in for each song. Whether it’s the lighting, the outfit (Hawaiian shirt and Trevor Horn-esque glasses) or the instruments including a ukulele for The Judge, and each has its own identity and theme…..
… and that extends to the mid set “acoustic interlude” which for some bands can be a chance to take it easy, but not here. They rattle through a great medley of some old and some newer songs from a temporary drum and keyboard platform at stage front including The Pantaloon, Semi-Automatic and Forest, with Tyler and Josh extracting versus and choruses in a seemingly random way. But of course it’s planned that way.
And then its back into the high energy spirit of the second part of the set including Holding on to You which saw Josh back-flipping off the piano, and Ride where an entire drum riser was brought offstage to be supported by the crowd with Tyler playing only inches above their heads. By this stage, its unsurprisingly at fever pitch, but there’s still time to notch it up for the final song Car Radio which saw Tyler disappearing offstage only to appear on the top balcony to finish the song. There was a momentary expectation of him launching himself off into the adoring throng, but the hands of 2 burly security guards kept him rooted to the spot. Given the height of the Guildhall balcony, probably a wise move.
After a brief respite, they succumbed to the wishes of the chanting fans and returned for a two song encore of Goner and Trees, the latter being a consummate lesson in putting on a finale as both Tyler and Josh climbed on fan held platforms containing 2 massive bass toms, as confetti exploded around them, and dry ice billows vertically from the smoke generators. Definitely a visual feast!
So its all breath-taking stuff, and one which I’m sure none of the crowd will forget in a hurry. Is there a chance that all “the show” diverts attention from some of the weaker songs? Yes probably. But being a band who try and weave so many styles into their repertoire, you’re never going to please everyone. And personally, if I could get entertained like that at every gig, roll on more shows like this!
Twenty One Pilots live review and photography
by Andy Sampson at Portsmouth Guildhall on 29th February 2016. Andy has more of his photography at Sound Ritual follow this link: www.soundritualphotos.co.uk