Skeleton pajamas and ski masks. A drummer in a hoodie with alien headgear. Red risers and a red microphone cord strewn from a crane. Black body paint. Post-Sublime stoner raps perpetually undercut by guttural pop choruses.
Columbus, Ohio, duo Twenty One Pilots is trying. The act — Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun — exists at the intersection between 311, the emo sugar of their Fueled By Ramen labelmates, and an admirable weirdo desire to forge a lane with floral-print coats, dusty upright pianos, and “woah”-soaked call-and-response hooks. It’s cheerful stuff that lands blows with the occasional reggae groove bolstered by Dun’s pummeling kit.
The band can point to constant touring and a pair of self-released records since forming in 2009 for its grind-it-out success.
They can bring sidemen in “Breaking Bad” hazmat suits, beckon the crowd to collectively get low before a gnarly audience-wide jump a la Slipknot in 2001, and it’d be impactful art if its soul wasn’t so pop engineered. I spotted two fraternity-specific flags at the front to match with a University of North Carolina lacrosse flag planted at center stage.
A Keane-esque piano ballad flips into an EDM drop full of warbled raps. Their afternoon keynote was a kitchen-sink heat stroke special not for the faint of heart. The uninitiated swore all of these ideas were coming from more than two people–indeed a trumpet player was introduced to admirably drop in what could have been a sample. Hell when Paul McCartney played Erwin, he canned the sax via keyboard on “Lady Madonna.” These guys care so much.
Enough to plop a drum kit on a platform and hoist it in the crowd.
“This is my father’s favorite song that I’ve written, which is why I keep it in the set,” Joseph says before the schlocky piano-man romp of “The Run and Go.” He stumps for hydration and thanks the security guards.
For all the casual forays into subversive rap antics, this band has post-Fun. pop theatrics that live on their carefree, halls-of-high-school spirit. And this all-in-one pop shop is officially open for business.