Twenty One Pilots knows how to put on a show, staging what was easily one of the most entertaining performances that will come through Nashville this year, when the band opened the U.S. leg of its Bandito Tour at Bridgestone Arena on Oct. 16.
In the early part of summer, the band surprised fans with a tour announcement, as well as dropping a release date for their third studio album “Trench,” which was released on Oct. 5. Less than two weeks after that album debuted, Twenty One Pilots hit the road, kicking off the tour in Music City.
After a year-long hiatus, the Grammy-Award winning duo emerged on the stage in hero fashion, seemingly rising from the ashes. As the lights dimmed and a curtain fell, drummer Josh Dun stood at the front of the stage, holding a torch looking into the crowd before taking a seat at his kit.
Seconds later, lead singer Tyler Joseph emerged, rising on a platform to stand on top of a burning car, mimicking the video for “Jumpsuit,” the band’s first single of its newest album. From there, the show felt like one big party, offering sing-alongs, dance numbers and production values that were out of this world.
To say the band’s fans were excited about the Nashville would be a massive understatement, as the Twenty One Pilot fan base is certainly devoted. In fact, some of those attendees who had standing-room-only tickets, decided to camp in front of Bridgestone Arena a day before the concert, in order to get a top-notch spot when it came to showtime. Both Joseph and Dun told the crowd that they’d felt that pressure ahead of the Nashville performance.
“I want to tell you something,” Joseph addressed the crowd. “Josh and I have been doing this for a while. Over the years, you get used to being in front of people and you’re able to calm your own nerves. You can fence yourself in, and tell yourself that this is easy. I want you to know, before this show, Josh and I were in the back hall and we looked at each other and were like, ‘I’m so nervous right now.’ But, we shook it off and now we are here and overcome with happiness that we are here playing in front of you guys.
“So tonight, we are going to show you some songs you may have heard already for a while, and some new ones as well.”
Joseph delivered on his promise as the band’s nearly two-hour performance scaled their entire catalog, even featuring a pair of surprising, but welcome, covers. Midway through the set, openers AWOLNATION and Max Frost joined Twenty One Pilots on stage for Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” and following that with The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
With the average age of the crowd maybe being 19 years old, it was surprising to hear just how loud the venue got when Joseph handed the singing duties over to the crowd during the cover songs. It was just a stark reminder of how big both songs were, and continue, to be.
In fact throughout the night, there were plenty of callbacks for Twenty One Pilots. Included in those moments was Joseph reuniting with his red beanie, a hat that the lead singer wore in the majority of the videos from the band’s second album, “Blurryface.”
Debuting “Nico and the Niners” to the crowd, Joseph got on top of a catwalk that emerged as he made his way to the other side of the arena to a B-Stage located at the sound board. There the band performed four songs, starting with one of their earliest songs, “Taxi Cab,” a song that hadn’t been performed live since 2013.
The songs performed out on the secondary stage were slower songs, as Joseph urged the crowd to take a seat, joking that “This is the part of the set that our parents would have liked.” While it was true that the tempo of the coming songs was much slower, these performances offered some of the most beautiful moments of the whole night.
Following “Taxi Cab,” a screen fell over the duo, and a light fixture enclosed the pair, and Joseph appeared on the screen. There the band went into “Neon Gravestones,” one of Twenty One Pilots’ heavier songs, discussing what Joseph sees as a glorification of suicide, particularly with celebrities in recent years.
“Don’t get me wrong, the rise in awareness is beating a stigma that no longer scares us,” Joseph raps. “But for sake of discussion, in spirit of fairness, could we give this some room for a new point of view? And, could it be true that some could be tempted to use this mistake as a form of aggression? A form of succession? A form of a weapon? Thinking ‘I’ll teach them?’”
The next two songs were faster as the lights flickered and both members were showcased on the giant, vertical screen. Following the live debut of “Bandito,” the band made its way to the main stage amidst a performance of “Pet Cheetah.”
The party continued back on the main stage for Twenty One Pilots, including a live debut of “Morph,” where Joseph told on himself, admitting he screwed up the second verse in the song. The band concluded its regular set with its massive hit “Car Radio,” which saw the smoke flying, lights ablaze. Joseph himself was all over the place on the song, first leaping from top of his piano on to the stage, running from side to side, before making his way to the back of the crowd, where he climbed a pole and held his arms open, embracing the Nashville audience.
At any other show, that would have been the perfect way to go out. However, Twenty One Pilots had two more songs up their sleeve, ending with a fun, but emotional version of “Trees” from the band’s debut album “Vessel.”
As the duo thanked the Nashville crowd, yellow confetti fell from the rafters as the band waved and said goodbye, promising that it would be back soon.
Zach Birdsong can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.