REVIEW: Twenty One Pilots: Emotional Roadshow
Twenty One Pilots is not your average band. That may sound trite, but you only need to listen to their 2016 hit ‘Stressed Out’ to understand why. It’s an eclectic little earworm, with notes of hip-hop, electronica, punk, alt-rock and anything in between. All the while, frontman Tyler Joseph’s thin voice and supple delivery cries out for the ‘good old days’ of childhood.
Therein lies part of the appeal of Twenty One Pilots – their ability to mesh musical genres in an unexpected alchemy that is catchy, compelling and undoubtedly distinctive. That’s not by accident, but rather a precise yet fearless approach to composition that Joseph and drummer Josh Dun have honed over six years. It provides some insight into how, in Sydney on their Emotional Roadshow, the duo effortlessly pull off an audiovisual spectacle up there with the best of them.
Even from the brooding bassline of opener ‘Fairly Local’, which transitions into the frenetic ‘Heavydirtysoul’, Joseph and Dun (in red suits and ski masks) seem possessed by a wild energy that charms and liberates their audience. They spend the next two hours at full intensity, and just when you think they have nothing left to give, they ramp it up and are handsomely rewarded.
Granted, Joseph and Dun don’t need to do much to win over their audience. Qudos Bank Arena was packed with countless fans in TØP’s signature red-and-black livery, proclamations of their loyalty to the band and what they represent. To say that TØP’s fanbase is committed is a gross understatement. That singular dedication largely stems from the significance that fans find in TØP’s lyrics. Joseph isn’t afraid to tackle darker subjects of mental illness, isolation and helplessness, and his lyricism and disarming emotional honesty, like threads of consciousness weaving in and out of Dun’s snappy beats, draws listeners in, such as on fan favourites ‘Migraine’ and ‘Holding On To You’. Joseph and Dun are a conduit for larger, heavier ideas, and their willingness to be vulnerable creates a safe place for the world’s misfits to come together and belt out TØP’s anthems for doomed youth.
The first half of Emotional Roadshow ranges from rap/rock hybrid ‘Heathens’ to a delightful ukulele rendition of Elvis’ ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, culminating in the frenzied climax of ‘Lane Boy’ complete with guys in hazmat suits and gas masks spraying fire extinguishers everywhere. What is impressive is that despite a raft of musical styles, costume changes and visual projections, the show is structurally flawless. Joseph is an agile showman, musically and physically, navigating through disparate musical territories with chameleonic ease.
With Dun, who attacks his instrument with infectious ferocity and verve, Joseph somehow ties it all together to create a chronology of their careers and an overarching story about courage over fear, redemption over guilt, life over death. Particular credit goes to their work on ‘Hometown’, where all the elements – the song’s pulsating power, visuals of a rabbit running for its life against unknown predators, Joseph teleporting to the other side of the arena – fuse together perfectly and reveal their keen eye for detail and depth of meaning.
After moving to a stage within the mosh pit for ‘Ode to Sleep’ – a magnum opus that blends anguished verse, sprightly ELO-esque chords and singalong indie pop – and an understated cover of ‘Cancer’ by My Chemical Romance, Joseph and Dun return to the main stage with a number of tricks up their sleeve, including Dun crowdsurfing on a platform with his drum kit, and Joseph running through the pit encased in a giant hamster ball. These gimmicks don’t detract from TØP’s flagship songs ‘Ride’, ‘Guns for Hands’, ‘Tear In My Heart’ and ‘Car Radio’ which, when released, are explosive in their impact. No song fails to get the 20,000-strong crowd up on their feet and singing along. Joseph and Dun finish with the heartwrenching ‘Goner’ and the anthemic ‘Trees’, building up anticipation for a communal, fist-pumping catharsis.
It’s exciting to see a band carve out a space and an aesthetic that is entirely their own. It’s heartening to see their fans take that up with such zeal. Addressing the audience in his final monologue, Joseph reflects on their ascension into the mainstream spotlight: ‘We were worried … would it change how our shows would run? And I gotta tell you … this is really our show.’ They’re Twenty One Pilots, and so are you.
1. Fairly Local / Heavydirtysoul
4. Message Man
7. We Don’t Believe What’s On TV
8. Can’t Help Falling In Love
9. Screen / The Judge
10. Lane Boy
11. Ode To Sleep
12. Addict With A Pen
14. Holding On To You
15. Jump Around / Ride
16. Stressed Out
17. Guns For Hands
18. Tear In My Heart
19. Car Radio