As you walk across the Open’er site, music comes at you from all angles. Bars are not just spaces to rehydrate, but places to dance as DJs play everything from pop to soul to jazz. Pop-up stands for local radio stations are packed with festival-goers shouting along to AC/DC, while each tent dotted around the festival is full of eager fans watching local acts and international stars.
At the Alter Stage tonight (June 30), Canadian jazz-hip-hop group BADBADNOTGOOD use their complex instrumentals to hypnotise the late-night crowd gathered before them, creating something spell-binding to close out the day. Earlier, Years & Years turns the Tent Stage into a thumping club with his vibrant pop bangers, rapturously received by an audience that spills out from under the canvas to cover half the surrounding field. Whether frontman Olly Alexander is performing from an angled bed or dancing on top of a piano for a cover of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’, he’s a magnetic performer who keeps you hooked on his every move.
Over on the main stage, the big draw of the day is headliners Twenty One Pilots. It’s their first time at Open’er – they were booked to headline in 2020 but never got the chance – but, as they tell NME backstage, it already feels like home to them. “Coming to Europe and playing festivals, there’s a certain vibe and atmosphere that feels familiar, which is really wild to say and feels like home,” explains drummer Josh Dun. “It’s a good feeling – when we started out, everything felt really foreign.”
The duo look like they’re at home as soon as they step on stage, even despite the uncertainties thrown into the mix by a looming storm that forces their set back by 30 minutes. As lightning cracks through the sky in the distance, though, Dun and singer Tyler Joseph deliver a euphoric and enrapturing performance that sees them throwing themselves around the stage (and off of it) as they run through a slick collection of some of their best songs.
Their performance might look like the unburdened japes of seasoned festival headliners but, as Joseph explains, there’s something deeper to topping the bill in their minds. “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 and really just try to make sure that you justify yourself being there,” he says. “It’s an honour, but at the same time you tandem that with just a confidence in knowing that you belong in that spot and you have to take on that understanding as well to even have the guts to get up on that stage.”
If Twenty One Pilots are representatives for the rest of the day’s acts, then they present them as creative and electric performers who you can’t take your eyes off with this set. There’s jaw-dropping hijinks from Dun somersaulting off the top of a piano during ‘Holding On To You’ and delivering a drum solo from a drum riser being held up by the crowd. ‘Car Radio’ finds Joseph dashing off stage and along a walkway between the barriers to a small tower of scaffolding, which he climbs and performs the end of the song from.
There’s also fun moments of airing covers of other artists’ songs and some of their own gentler work presented in a fitting setting. At one point, a campfire is set up on stage and the duo, plus an additional guitarist, violinist, accordion player, bassist and trumpeter gather around it for an acoustic medley. As well as versions of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ and The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’, they share takes on their own ‘We Don’t Believe What’s On TV’ and ukulele strum of ‘House Of Gold’.
Soon, it’s time for the small flames to be extinguished and the band to get back to the big display they’re more typically associated with. ‘Stressed Out’ comes accompanied by the sound of a huge explosion at its end, while ‘Shy Away’ segues seamlessly into a burst of My Chemical Romance’s ‘I’m Not OK’ and back again. “Thanks so much for sticking around and letting us play in your beautiful country,” Joseph declares afterwards. “We would come back any time you’d have us.” As ‘Trees’ provides an anthemic end to the set, fans making the most of one last opportunity to dance with the duo, it’s clear the feeling is mutual.