The guys in the Columbus-based alternative rock duo Twenty One Pilots certainly know how to make an entrance.
They started last night’s two-hour concert in front of a capacity crowd at the Q in dramatic fashion as singer-multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph arrived carrying a torch. Decked out in fatigue pants and a bandana, he looked like he could’ve been a fashion conscious terrorist/mugger as he climbed atop the shell of car that rose from underneath the stage and began singing the jittery opening number, “Jumpsuit,” a single from the band's new album, Trench
Flames flickered from both the stage and the car, and explosions echoed through the arena.
Just a duo, the two created one helluva racket last night, but they relied on preprogrammed beats and samples to flesh out the sound, something that made their musical presentation less impressive than that of other alternative rock duos such as the White Stripes and the Black Keys, who would perform without those kinds of enhancements.
Still, the theatricality of the concert, which included numerous outfit changes and a stripped-down segment on a satellite stage, meant that it was regularly engaging and kept the band's ardent fans on their feet for the entire set.
You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
The concert peaked early as the band capably delivered a knockout punch with “Stressed Out” and “Heathens,” songs that Joseph and drummer Josh Dun performed with precision. "Heathens," a track that began with a piano melody and then escalated into a hip-hop anthem, fared particularly well as a flickering video treatment and blinding lasers accompanied the song.
The duo stumbled a bit during a segment that found Joseph decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and white-rimmed sunglasses as he picked up a ukulele for “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” and “The Judge.” In contrast to the rest of the set’s hip-hop inflected tunes, the twangy, frivolous songs lacked the emotional weight of the other material.
The band got back on track with a stripped down segment which found Joseph walking along a catwalk that extended out over the audience on the floor and Dun running through the crowd, slapping high fives along the way. Songs such as the piano ballads “Taxi Cab” and "Bandito" fared well in the format and allowed Joseph's brittle vocals to dominate the mix.
The duo would return to the main stage as Joseph, who appeared to have no fear of heights, delivered the Eminem-like “Pet Cheetah" while traipsing atop the catwalk.
While the gesture was a good one, inviting openers Max Frost and Awolnation to the stage for covers of the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris," a song that Joseph said was the first track Dun learned on the recorder while in music school, and the Beatles' "Hey Jude," one of the first songs Joseph ever learned on piano, fell flat. The ensemble just didn't add anything new to the covers and delivered generic renditions.
The concert picked back up as the band launched into the reggae-inspired "Ride" and followed it up with funky "My Blood," a tune that found Joseph, who wore a skeleton mask at this point in the show, capably alternating between singing and rapping. Joseph again channeled Eminem on the undulating "Morph," a song that featured snappy percussion and a jazzy synthesizer loop. The concert came to a close with "Car Radio," a tune that found Joseph rapping over a gentle piano melody before he ran to the rear of the floor to finish the song from atop a riser.
The band would return for a two-song encore that featured the piano ballad "Leave the City" and the equally tender "Trees." Joseph endeared himself to the crowd by referring to the gig as "a hometown show," and he thanked fans for making the band look good in front of all of his family members who were in attendance.
Max Frost started the night off with a 30-minute set of catchy pop tunes that concluded with the infectious "Good Morning," a song that found the guy alternating between rapping and singing. Performing to a backing track meant that the performance wasn't particularly dynamic — he would have benefited from being accompanied by a band.
Awolnation followed Frost with a rousing 45-minute set that concluded with its soaring anthem "Sail," a song that singer Aaron Bruno said he wrote when he "hit rock bottom." It appropriately generated an enthusiastic response from the crowd.