If You Don't Believe the Twenty One Pilots Hype, Just See One of Their Shows: Critic's Take

Twenty One Pilots perform during the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

Twenty One Pilots perform during the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Festival - Night 1 held at T-Mobile Arena on Sept. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas.

As a fan of alternative rock, I’ve listened to several Twenty One Pilots songs thanks to “related artists” playlists. I didn’t mind their music, but by the time “Stressed Out” and “Ride” reached radio saturation, I didn’t really consider myself a fan.

As an avid lover of live music, though, I was intrigued by all of the positive things I’d been told about TØP concerts. And on top of being told that they put on quite the show, I was captivated by the shout-out Pilots frontman Tyler Joseph gave to bands who are "trying to make it” in his acceptance speech at the American Music Awards in November. Between the sincerity in Joseph’s voice when he declared, "Live music is still alive, and that means a lot to us,” and the rave reviews I’d heard, I didn’t want to write them off before seeing them next time they were in town.

Flash forward to January 21, and I’m sitting in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., ready to see what the Twenty One Pilots live show hype was all about. Starting off the night was Nashville alt-folk quartet Judah & the Lion and singer-songwriter/rapper Jon Bellion, and it was already evident that the TØP guys even put thought put into the opening acts — the openers provided enough energy to make the pre-headliner period almost as enjoyable as the main event.

In addition to the openers, the crowd was about as alive as they come even before the duo hit the stage, with the general admission floor nearly reaching capacity by the time Bellion came on. So when it came time for Twenty One Pilots to finally start, the energy in the arena was practically contagious.

After hyping up fans even more with a chill-inducing light show soundtracked by the intro to their 2015 single “Fairly Local,” Joseph and drummer Josh Dun kicked off the show with “Heavydirtysoul,” the opener to their breakout Blurryface album. The guys continued the adrenaline rush with "Migraine" and "Hometown,” which included a Prestige-like disappearing act by Joseph (you kind of have to see it to believe it). Four songs in, and I was already hooked.

For this specific show, Joseph happened to have family in the audience (his mom hails from the Garden State), so he had one request for fans. "I want a put on a show, but I also want you to put on a show for my family," Joseph declared. "Can you do that?”

The sold-out crowd seemed to be all over the place: 8-year-old boys with their hands covered in black powder to emulate Joseph’s look, squealing teenage girls screaming “Marry me Josh!,” twenty-something dudes headbanging, and even older couples who looked like they'd probably rather be seeing The Rolling Stones. No matter what demographic, though, everyone was seemingly ready to oblige to whatever request Joseph made. This made the overall experience even more enjoyable, seeing how so many different types of people can come together for the love of one band.

As the show continued, it became easier and easier for me to share the passion these fans were exuding. Joseph and Dun provided a spectacle with just about every song in their 24-song set, whether they were performing in the crowd, jumping off pianos or running around in a giant hamster ball on top of the fans on the floor. Even the B-stage they utilized in the middle of the show was awe-inspiring, as the entire thing was a light box that showed colorful graphics and lyric videos.

Plus, the TØP guys added in mash-ups of their own tracks, like a brilliant mix of fan favorites “Screen” and “The Judge," as well as covers of pop classics like Blackstreet's “No Diggity” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around” -- which made for a fun role reversal in the audience, with the parents in the crowd finally more excited than the kids they were chaperoning. There really wasn’t a dull moment.

Nearly two hours later, it was time for the two-song encore of “Goner” and “Trees.” Before starting the final tune, Joseph once again addressed his family that was in attendance. “I think you probably impressed my grandma, but let’s make sure my grandpa is impressed too.”

Considering it was readily apparent that both of the TØP guys gave their all throughout the entire concert, it’d be pretty surprising to hear that any of the Joseph clan wasn’t proud of the show Tyler and Josh had just delivered. And if Grandma and Grandpa weren’t enthused with Twenty One Pilots, they at least won me over.



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