By: Zachary Kolesar, In The Record Store staff writer.
There is a mathematical equation, one that I am just starting to grasp, that explains the meteoric rise and success of TWENTY ØNE PILØTS.
Even though this is a Columbus band that is on their second leg of five straight performances dubbed "Tour de Columbus," they have far ascended the status of a Columbus band. However, the manner that the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun carry themselves, following up a show on Tuesday at the 300-capactity Basement across town, is as humble as Grammy-winning rock stars can get.
In fact, on Wednesday at Newport Music Hall, the group that achieved its first No. 1 album with 2015’s “Blurryface” even ran through personal tracks that first attracted one of the most passionate fan bases around from 2011’s “Regional at Best.” With an ominous, intergalactic buzzing noise vibrating over the amps, though, the first portion of twenty one pilots' set focused heavily on what put the band into the world’s spotlight.
The lights dimmed at 8:07 p.m., and a crowd ready to scream every one of Joseph’s words exploded with ecstasy, as the singer emerged from the dark and grasped a microphone that hung from the ceiling as Dun’s sporadic drumming introduced “Heavydirtysoul.”
Being near the back and having a good look at the entire audience, mouths were moving as fast as Joseph’s rapid-fire lyrics, one of many testaments throughout the day to how many hearts this band has touched. The deep and intimate stories that the band shares within its songs makes the reciting of lyrics touching on depression and hardships that more powerful when a full concert hall is belting them out.
One of the immediate takeaways I got from the twenty one pilots performance at the Newport was how theatrical of a front man Joseph was. Even though the band now has a bigger budget to add brighter lights and special effects to its shows, it was still the showmanship of Joseph—with his frantic dancing and ski-mask antics—that makes its shows feel like a party. They have been putting out high-energy performances like this consistently, always bringing fun party favors to the table like a floating platform so the two can crowd surf while having a drum battle or explosions of smoke that coated the venue or even a hologram version of Dun so that he could carry on his own drum battle with himself.
Over the course of six years, the Columbus darlings have made one of the most incredible leaps to the forefront of the music industry without comprising their sound or stage presence. They have been working in quirks to their performances for nearly a decade now, and the results are showing in massive numbers. The thousands of fans who helped sell out a five-show mini tour of Columbus in minutes—with upcoming shows at Express Live, Nationwide Arena and Value City Arena over the next three days—have been showing up in masses with even fans from across the country camping out for Sunday’s big finale.
The thing is, twenty one pilots also has a special bond with each of these venues it is taking a victory lap with. The group lost a Battle of the Bands at The Basement. After selling out Value City Arena in the fall of 2015, they announced a 2016 headlining tour that sold out two Madison Square Garden dates. And getting back to that equation, with 12 members in the audience at the band’s first out-of-state show—one they opened with the very emotional, up-and-down “Ode to Sleep”—the two ended a two-year process of recording the song’s music video with a clip from their performance at the LC Pavilion (now Express Live) with an audience 1,000 times that size.
So getting back to the equation, it would go something like this: (Humbleness + Passion) x 12 x (2,000/2 Years Hard Work) will yield one of the most dedicated, die-hard fan bases of this decade. I have never experienced the extent of twenty one pilot’s fandom in person until Wednesday night at Newport—where the band first attracted major labels with a sold out show in 2011. Driving down High Street in the summer is a nightmare, but because I have observed massive lines trailing from the Newport in the past, I knew that the line for a homecoming show coming off the group’s Grammy successes would be packed.
At noon, seven hours before the doors open, the line for this show was already stretching past Urban Outfitters—a distance stretching over one whole block. Two hours later the line was nearing three blocks long. And for my last check, three hours before doors opened, the line was curling around Huntington Bank near East 17th. Again, 12 people attended twenty one pilots’ first out-of-state show.
Which brings me to another realization about this band that separates them from others: Joseph and Dun’s lack of fear of failure. While some artists will give up when they can’t amass 100,000 listens on Soundcloud, twenty one pilots preserved even after putting on a show for an amount of people you could almost count on two hands. Which makes sense that fame has little to no effect on these hometown boys. With Joseph mentioning during the show that he used to work at the venue he has now sold out multiple times and met Dun under the balcony, their origins run deep in Columbus. Yet the two can still connect with audiences on an intimate level despite how far they have come over the past five years.
With little reminders like this that made this concert feel more special than a stop in another city, the crowd kept the same energy from start to finish by fueling from Joseph and Dun’s charisma. Aside from an extremely raucous and intense performance of “Lane Boy”—with all the smoke and hazmat-suited goons you could ask for— the crowd’s energy was focused on hits off “Vessel,” the group’s first release under major label Fueled by Ramen. Cuts like “House of Gold,” “Holding On To You,” and “Car Radio,” really struck a chord with an audience that was with Dun word-for-word from the middle of the pit to the top balcony.
Just before the show was about to come to a close, Joseph announced how he would never forget this moment. He then segued into yet another cut from “Regional at Best,” the emotional journey that is “Trees.” Citing that the band ends most sets with the inspiring and powerful track, Joseph bid the Newport farewell, as the band’s five-day progression from basement venue to stadium status, comparable to the band’s climb over five years, continues to ascend as their stardom does without the two losing sight of who they are.
At 9:49 p.m. the sky in Newport filled with red confetti, marking the end of just one show on a stretch of five legendary performances.