I first encountered Twenty One Pilots when their mega single ‘Stressed Out’ hit the airwaves around 2015. Its sullen character, choppy rhythms and chorus created an earworm that lingered within my skull for a week or two. Fast forward a year or two, I was seeing their name and music associated with the DC Comic universe via blockbuster film Suicide Squad with the chart-topping ‘Heathens’. Whilst I was aware of the band and their singles, I underestimated how popular Twenty One Pilots were, especially as a live act. I was also completely ignorant of the fact that they’ve been around in some shape or another for close to 11 years! The power of a simple google search, eh?
More recently I saw many social media posts proclaiming that they are selling out arenas across the world, in addition to accounting for billions of plays on streaming services. I began noticing more of their branded t-shirts on the youth of today. Twenty One Pilots are a global power in today’s music industry. So, fast forward to last night, and I find myself on the bus en route to the Titanic Quarter seated amongst masses of fans sporting yellow beanies and black hoodies with florescent gaffa tape Xs across their chests. Their Northern Irish legions were congregating to see the duo in action at the Belfast SSE Arena.
This tour, dubbed ‘The Bandito Tour‘, was in support of their recent studio effort ‘Trench’ featuring singles such as ‘Chlorine’.
Californian indie poppers The Regrettes were tonight’s support act with jittery and jangly rhythms, smooth choruses, harmonies by the square mile and danceable beats echoing throughout the arena. A complete contrast to the headline act to follow, which was welcomed by the growing crowd. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to grab a few snaps of the band this time around but hopefully upon their return to the Emerald Isle, we can fill this visual gap!
As the black curtain coated the stage loomed over the crowd buzzing with anticipation, eager fans awaited its drop. The arena went dark to the introductory ambience. Out of the darkness comes drummer Josh Dun with a bandana covering his face wielding a blazing torch, standing ominously on the walkway staring out to the sea of fans as the flames danced upon it. The shell of a sedan suddenly rises to the stage with vocalist/bassist/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph standing upon it wearing a balaclava, camo coat and a bass guitar across his back. To the sounds of ‘Jumpsuit’ – the duo began their sonic escapades with a thumping bass riff and pulsating drums, with the sedan now engulfed in large flames, and commands to jump being screamed across the PA. During its more reserved bridge, confetti fell from the ceiling. Breakbeats brought in the song ‘Levitate’ accompanied by fast-paced, rhythmic and incredibly punchy verses. Twenty One Pilots were just getting warmed up…
Tonight’s stage set was stunning and the designers definitely pulled out all the stops in its development – from massive lighting rigs, exposing smoke cannons and gigantic screens to scissor lifting platforms, fire effects and a humongous sky bridge that extended to a smaller stage over by the sound desk. One thing is for certain, Twenty One Pilots wanted to leave audience members with a show they’ll never forget. For the hit singles ‘Stressed Out’ and ‘Heathens’ – the crowd ignited in reciprocating their energy tenfold, whilst songs like ‘Lane Boy’ and ‘Nico and the Niners’ evoked their dub reggae influences that kept the audience grooving. Transitions between the mainstage and stage B kept things frantic as Tyler traversed the sky bridge delivering energetic vocals over sharp beats whilst Josh ran through the crowd.
During their time on stage B – songs like ‘Bandito’ presented the more relaxed, gloomy and piano-driven approach to the band’s songwriting heavily contrasting the hook-laden alt-pop anthems. Bar lights danced above their heads changing shapes and formations, with the surrounding crowd activating phone torches as others reached into their pockets for the old-school lighter to become part of the already impressive light show.
With a setlist containing 21 songs and extending well over two hours, Twenty One Pilots not only sated the appetites of their legions of loyal fans but delivered a dynamic setlist characterised by adrenaline and excitement throughout. They interacted with their audience at every opportunity and relentlessly engaged the aural and visual senses with their stage production and choice cuts/fan favourites from their discography. Towards the closing of the set, Tyler even found himself standing on top of the crowd who collectively supported his feet and legs.
If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m writing this review from the perspective of someone who isn’t up to speed with Twenty One Pilots. I’m progressively moving towards the back of the venue in my old age, the next generation are now hanging over the barrier. I left that arena highly impressed and astonished. For those like me, ignorant and unenlightened, take the opportunity and see the band whilst they’re performing on this tour, you’ll not regret it. An amazing and enjoyable show from start to finish!
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Review by Steve Donnelly