Concert Review 21 Pilots - 21st December 2018

21 Pilots | Photo Ginny C

21 Pilots | Photo Ginny C


By Shawn Moodie

Artist: 21 Pilots

Date / Venue: Friday December 21st, 2018 - Spark Arena, Auckland

I didn't want to watch Twenty One Pilots last night, let alone enjoy it. Let me explain.

I had put my hand up to review the genre-hopping duo a couple of days ago under the false impression that my fiancé, Liz, was a big fan who would get a kick out of seeing their famed high-energy live show. I was mistaken. “They're pretty much 2017’s ‘My Chemical Romance’ with better masks, no?”

I suggested Kiss might be a better comparison considering the rabid fan-base and merchandising-machine that had built up around Tyler Joseph and Joshua Dun (a throng of excited kids wearing branded yellow shirts, beanies, and balaclavas greeted me as I entered Spark Arena). I'd tried, on-and-off, to find a friend to come along with me but it was now Friday and most people had 'better things to do’ (that meant last day of work drinks).

So there I was, in a bar with my work mates, a couple of hours before the show with no one to go with. I ended up sending a desperation text to my 67 year old Dad, who as it turned out was surprisingly keen - not to see the band mind you, he'd never heard of them, rather to just spend time with me. So there we were, nestled close to the stage in what must have been expensive seats. Surrounded by a sea of excitable faces, whose excitement reached near fever-pitch before the band had even come on, and I wanted to be anywhere else in the world.

Look I know how ungrateful this sounds, but the reason I'm telling you this is that I shouldn't have enjoyed this gig as much as I did. Joseph and Dun's, genre-blending display and shameless theatrics, which at times came off as late-era Muse, but without the sliver of restraint they still possess, should have been more jarring than appealing. At times it was a little, but from opener Jumpsuit, which saw Dun walk out on stage in a black balaclava with a flaming torch in hand (yes, I cringed) to the pairing of Stressed Out and Heathens - a few songs later I was hooked.

They're a very well-oiled machine, who paired brilliant lighting and pyrotechnics with a high-energy, and sometimes manic stage presence to great effect. These guys are pros. They know when to involve the crowd, when to release the confetti, when to crowd surf (which at one point saw the drummer, drum kit and all, out on a platform). I was impressed. Tyler Joseph is a captivating frontman, with an impressively broad vocal range and an ability to switch between singing and rapping at ease (chuck in playing the bass, guitar, ukulele, and piano for good measure). He knew when to stop the show and chat, and when doing so knew exactly what to say to get the audience onside, “Thanks for coming, if you weren't here this would be kind of weird.”

Other highlights included an extended bit where Joseph encouraged us old farts to show the kids how to bust a move, and my personal favourite - a call to the pit to get everyone up on each other’s shoulders. This was of course met by exasperated sighs from the security. For his part, Joshua Dun was a constant presence behind the sticks, who 'kept the show on the road’ in the words of my 67 year old Dad. He offered us an evening of impeccable timing, brilliant fills, and surprising acrobatics - emanating an effortless cool throughout.

Early in the night I had questioned whether the venue would be too much for a two-piece. I was wrong. They used the stage well, involved the crowd throughout, and incorporated a masterfully executed visual display. I had questioned whether I would like the genre-blending music. I did. Stressed Out, Heathens, Car Radio, and Ride we're obvious fan-favourites, and for good reason, they're good songs which meld intricate production (thanks by-in-large to Joseph) with imaginative drumming, unique builds and chord progressions, and startlingly lyrical depth. The highlight for me though, was probably the closer, Trees. It took things down a notch and was rewarded for it, with the crowd singing back every word. The song was imbued with a surprising level of artistry and affecting lyrics. Joseph and Dun are the real deal.

At the end of the day all I can really offer you guys is the clique “it was an experience” but in this case it's fitting. The band brought bucket loads of creativity, enthusiasm, and imagination to their two hour set. That's not to say the concert wasn't at time jarring and baffling but I guess that just means I'm officially old now. They've earned their rabid fanbase who left Spark Arena absolutely fizzing. And yes, I did too. My Dad also loved it for what it's worth.