Twenty One Pilots at Mad Cool 2022: Five reasons why they were worthy headliners

The alt-rock giants bring crowd-surfing drumkits, a campfire and even a well-chosen Elton John cover

Last week NME caught up with Twenty One Pilots at Open’er Festival, ahead of their highly billed performance at the Polish music festival. Part of a string of headline slots across Europe, the band discussed the importance of taking these sets seriously. “We do feel like, whether or not the other bands of the day look at us that way, there’s almost a responsibility to represent them as the closing act,” said vocalist Tyler Joseph, adding: “Really, trying to make sure you justify yourself being there – because it’s an honour.”

Yet despite knowing it’s a privilege to play these shows, the band are aware of how far they’ve come in their career and that their hard work has paid off. “At the same time, you tandem that with a confidence in knowing that you belong in that spot and you have to take on that understanding to even have the guts out on that stage,” Joseph said of playing as headliners.


Their Mad Cool Festival 2022 set is the perfect example of this – a demonstration of why the band deserve to be at the top of festival bills. Both Joseph and drummer Josh Dun are on fine form – leaping into the crowd at every opportunity with their on-stage antics accompanied by a tight backing band and pulsating visuals. It’s a colossal show, from a band who earned the right to be here. Not convinced? Let us win you over. Here are five reasons Twenty One Pilots belong at the top of festival bills.

The Elton John cover

After the buoyant bounce of soft rock smash ‘Mulberry Street’, the band then launch into another piano-led, hook-heavy track: a surprise outing Elton John’s belter ‘Bennie and the Jets’. A staple in their current tour setlist, the well-chosen cover felt right at home nestled among some of the poppier moments of the show.

Credit: Andy Ford for NME

The campfire moment

“Welcome to our campfire,” Joseph tells the crowd midway through their performance, “do you mind if we play a few songs down here?” Huddled in the centre of the stage around a make-shift campfire, what follows is a sweet, acoustic respite – offering a breather amidst  the high-octane show. Opening with a cover of Elvis Presley classic ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, before launching into a montage of further reworkings (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ ‘Home’, Johnny Nash’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’, The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’), as well their own tunes (alt-folk earworm ‘House of Gold’, 2015 release ‘We Don’t Believe What’s on TV’), it made for a welcome, intimate and warming moment. Pass the marshmallows.

The ‘Car Radio’ performance

For the climatic rendition of ‘Car Radio’, the set-up reverts to just Joseph and Dun onstage, their backing band taking a bow before leaving the duo standing alone. The impassioned performance sees the pair leave everything on the stage, or, in the case of Joseph, up the viewing platform. Midway through the track the vocalist sprints from the stage, through the break down the centre of the crowd before entering the bottom of the high structure, emerging at the top to finish the heated rendition of the song. Real headliners do their own stunts.

Credit: Andy Ford for NME

The showmanship


If you go to a Twenty One Pilots gig, you know you can expect a few tricks. From Dun’s signature backflip off the piano, to the blasts of pyro, steam and confetti throughout, the band know how to put on a show. They’re on top form tonight. From Joseph quipping “Would you please give it up for Metallica for opening up for us,” to his impressive parkour skills as he launches flies into the crowd. This is how it’s done.

The appreciation of performing live again

The fact that they’re finally able to perform a festival circuit like this again isn’t lost on Twenty One Pilots. The show is well thought out and a visual treat, a triumph for both the band, and a gift to the fans who’ve waited several years for this. “We were supposed to play this festival back in 2020, but it was cancelled, live music was cancelled,” Joseph tells the audience at one point, before adding “live music is alive!” Given their show tonight, it certainly is.

Check back here at NME for the latest news, interviews, photos and more from Mad Cool 2022.

NME is an official media partner of Mad Cool Festival 2022