You never know when something might go awry at a Twenty One Pilots concert.
You never know, for instance, if frontman Tyler Joseph is going to slip badly while trying to use his upright piano as a springboard, or if drummer Josh Dun will fall into the crowd while trying to leap from a makeshift, fan-handheld ministage onto the main stage. You never know if one of them might decide to crowdsurf, and if so, whether said crowd will decide to rudely and unceremoniously tear the shirt from their back.
But on Monday night at Spectrum Center, Joseph and Dun had their act entirely together, pulling off all of their planned stunts while keeping a sea of fans singing along to every emo lyric and bobbing to every alt-rock-rap-electropop beat for more than 23 songs over two-plus hours.
Of course, Twenty One Pilots has had plenty of opportunities to get it exactly right: The sold-out Charlotte concert came 84 shows into the “Bandito Tour,” which started last October, just days after the release of its top-five album “Trench.”
So, on the one hand, it’s hard to believe Joseph wasn’t blowing smoke when he said — after an easy, breezy rendition of current-ish hit “Cut My Lip,” done deep into the band’s set — “This is turning out to be one of my favorite shows on the whole tour.” At the same time, if you didn’t know any better, it would have been easy to believe that this was an opening-night performance, given the guys’ intensity, their lucidity, their playfulness, and their unhurried pace.
- Dun emerged wearing a mask and carrying a torch before firing up his kickdrum to kickstart the heavy opener, “Jumpsuit,” which saw Joseph — also wearing a mask — leap off the husk of an old sedan as it burst into flames (a la the music video for the song). He climbed back up on the burning car to perform undulating rap-rocker “Levitate.”
- Near the end of the third song, the doleful “Fairly Local,” Joseph — still masked — did a trust fall into an opening in the stage. Not two seconds later, a floodlight found him on a platform 150 feet away in the upper level, where he rap-sung the chorus one more time while tearing off his mask. This is one of the oldest tricks in Twenty One Pilots’ book, but it’s still nifty — and it managed to keep the crowd buzzing for a couple minutes, right up until Joseph got back onstage and launched into the bassline for their signature hit “Stressed Out.” (To me, at least, it seems pretty clear that the real Joseph was switched out with a masked double when the stage went dark between “Levitate” and “Fairly Local,” and then the crowd heard a recorded track playing until the real Joseph reappeared in the upper level.)
- On a night filled with high-energy performances, perhaps the most energetic came after Joseph primed the crowd to do its part during the “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” refrain of the jackhammer-paced, ukelele-fueled “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” — an emo-punk song that seems like it was engineered to make fans go bananas in a live setting.
- During a break in the middle of their funkdafied, disco-tinged track “My Blood,” Joseph encouraged fans to loosen up and dance a little, working with his camera crew to show some examples of ushers letting loose. The third of three that they cut to was Jim Kobos, who just happens to be pretty well-known for showing off goofy dance moves while working his post. Upon seeing Kobos shaking his fists in front of his chest and jerking from side to side, Joseph yelled, “Ohhhhh! Are you kidding?? That might be my favorite one of the entire tour right there.” (And this time, I actually believed him.)
In terms of the production, there was near-constant eye candy — from the floor-to-ceiling blasts of smoke and the incredible laser-light show to the ceiling-hung catwalk Joseph used to reach the B-stage by the soundboard and the spaceship-like rope lights that created rain and falling-star effects above the B-stage.
It was, in terms of sheer spectacle, a giant step up from its last stop here, in 2016 at Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre.
But whereas that show catered more toward the casual Twenty One Pilots fan — with covers of songs like Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around” — the current tour is squarely focused on pleasing the Skeleton Clique.
Over the course of the evening, Twenty One Pilots managed to squeeze in every single song (14 in all) from the new album, along with five from 2015’s “Blurryface.”
And that seemed to be just fine with this particular crowd. Whenever the jumbo-sized video screens cut to shots of fans, they knew all the words, whether it was to a gigantic hit like “Ride” or to one of those newer tracks that the average music fan probably wouldn’t even recognize the melody of.
It felt like a giant party. The only time that the crowd sat down during the show was when Joseph literally told it to sit down.
“Go ahead and have a seat for this part. Rest your tootsies,” the singer said, as he himself took a seat at another piano on the B-stage for quieter songs “Smithereens” and “Neon Gravestones.” (Hundreds couldn’t, however, and he also acknowledged that: “I always like to say to everyone on the floor: Suck it up.”)
The softer section of the show didn’t last long. Before you knew it, they had returned to the main stage.
Joseph leaped onto and off of his piano. Dun climbed atop it at one point, too, and did his signature backflip off of it. They each stood on their own makeshift, fan-handheld ministage (i.e. platforms held aloft by ticketholders standing toward the front of the GA floor section) and pounded on drums as more confetti rained during the finale, “Trees.”
Nothing went wrong during those stunts. In fact, on this night, pretty much everything seemed to go right.
Twenty One Pilots’ setlist
3. “Fairly Local”
4. “Stressed Out”
7. “We Don’t Believe What’s on TV”
8. “The Hype”
9. “Lane Boy”
10. “Nico and the Niners”
12. “Neon Gravestones”
14. “Pet Cheetah”
15. “Holding on to You”
17. “Cut My Lip”
18. “My Blood”
20. “Car Radio”
22. “Leave the City”