Twenty One Pilots have always wanted to create spectacle. From dangling a microphone off a fishing rod during those early basement gigs to the disappearing acts and crowd-surfing drum solos of their recent arena shows, the duo have always tried to get the most from whatever space they’ve found themselves in.
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Seven months in the making, Friday night (May 21) saw the band take over the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio for their first virtual concert. Rather than trying to recreate what they usually do – but without the fans – Twenty One Pilots instead set out to see just how far they can push their celebration of new record ‘Scaled and Icy’. “In a world where this is as good as it gets, it will still be the best you’ve ever seen,” Tyler Joseph promised on Twitter before the show, a rare showing of bravado. Turns out he had every right to be so confident.
Proceedings open with a deliberately awkward interview between Joseph and two breakfast television hosts (“there’s not even 21 pilots,” one remarks, “there’s only two guys in the band”). If they look familiar, that’s because they’re actually two of the authoritarian bishops Twenty One Pilots introduced on their 2018 concept record ‘Trench’. Soon, Joseph breaks the fourth wall with the opening bars of the skittering ‘Choker’. A swift walk from sofa to stage follows, where he reunites with powerhouse drummer Josh Dun to deliver the rest of the uncertain anthem. The scene quickly changes once more when hooded dancers whisk Joseph away for a hectic physical run through of ‘Stressed Out’ atop a light-up dancefloor. Each one of these individual set-pieces is more elaborate than most livestreams we’ve seen over the past year, but the band keeps the surprises coming.
Flying through twenty songs in an hour, the pair make sure every second packs a punch. New poptastic tracks ‘Mulberry Street’ and ‘The Outside’ are performed with all the pizzazz of Broadway with choreographed dance routines to match. Shifting the tone, acoustic renditions of ‘Heathens’ and ‘Trees’ find Joseph alone in a lifeboat with nothing but his ukulele and a starry sky for company. This quiet moment of emotional beauty is a much needed chance to catch your breath before the snarling thrash of ‘Jumpsuit’ does its best to take it away again. Elsewhere the funk-driven ‘Shy Away’ sees the band take over a snowy, alfresco royal banquet. Why? Well, why not. Jumping onto the table and sending an ornate bowl flying, even Joseph can’t help but smirk at how ridiculously over-the-top the whole thing is.
Normally Twenty One Pilots perform as a duo, triggering pre-recorded tracks to fill in the gaps they can’t cover between them. Throughout tonight’s livestream, however, they’re joined by an array of musicians and backing vocalists to make it as “live” as possible. Closing track ‘Never Take It’ sees Twenty One Pilots become an 8-piece band, while the extra hands also allow for a slick mashup of ‘Lane Boy’, ‘Nico and the Niners’ and ‘Redecorate’. Hopefully these extra musicians make the jump from screen to stage because Twenty One Pilots have never sounded stronger or more ambitious.
Littered with enough easter eggs to keep Twenty One Pilot’s fanbase The Clique busy theorising on Reddit for the next few weeks, the concert is a deep dive into the lore of the band. Twenty One Pilots have always been an ambitious group, and tonight really sees them push the limit on just what a livestream can be. According to the band’s management, 150 production and support staff helped to bring it to life. Taking all the lessons learnt from fifteen months of virtual gigs, they’ve served up one of the most forward-thinking shows that’ve been attempted in over a year. And with the return of proper live shows imminent, the only question remaining is what Twenty One Pilots’ next trick will be. This is going to be very hard to top.