Let’s start with the name: Twenty One Pilots. It comes from an Arthur Miller play, All My Sons, about a guy who willfully supplied faulty parts to WWII airplanes, resulting in the deaths of 21 pilots and subsequently the suicide of the supplier.
A tragic back story, yes, but it darkly complements the band’s lyrics, which address depression, anxiety, alienation, insecurity and other debilitating emotional afflictions and which bind the duo resolutely to their fans as a source of empathy and support.
One of the Pilots biggest hits is a song called Stressed Out, which has accumulated 1.5 billion—yes, billion—YouTube hits. Its chorus: Wish we could turn back time to the good old days / When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.
Wednesday night, the duo from Columbus, Ohio—singer-songwriter Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun—spent nearly two hours unleashing their tales of despair to a near sold-out Sprint Center crowd amid a lavish and relentless stage show, one rife with visual spectacles and special effects.
They wasted no time issuing salvos of eye candy. The opener, Jumpsuit, included a blizzard of confetti and a car set ablaze, which transported Joseph to the stage. There was plenty more to come: lasers, pyrotechnics, wafts and gusts of dry-ice fog and a drum kit riding high above the crowd.
The set list focused heavily on Trench, the band’s latest album, released in October, its first album since its breakthrough Blurryface album, released in 2015.
Accompanied by a tide of backing that bolstered Joseph’s keyboards and bass and Dun’s drums, they would play nine songs from Trench, six from Blurryface and a smattering of tracks from previous releases.
And, with assistance from the evening’s openers, AWOLNATION and Max Frost, they also delivered two covers that jibed with the wistful lyrical themes of their own songs: the Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris and the Beatles’ Hey Jude, which prompted an uproarious sing-along among a crowd that was predominantly post-millennial.
The Pilots’ polyphonic music traverses a variety of genres, sometimes within a single song, swaying from hip-hop to rock, prog rock, reggae, electro-pop, indie pop. Joseph is an unconventional lead vocalist (especially when he raps). Though reedy and thin, however, his voice oddly suits the vulnerability and raw candor in his lyrics.
They would perform several songs at a satellite stage at the back of the arena and deliver a low-grade Penn & Teller sleight of hand when, with help from a stunt double who was also wearing a black ski mask, Joseph disappeared into the main stage and then reappeared in the upper-deck seats across the arena, raising his arms victoriously.
Dun also ignited an uproar when he revealed a large KCMO that had been scrawled with a Sharpie across his six-pack abdomen.
It all added to the jubilance that filled the arena for the entire show. The crowd sang along feverishly to nearly every song, but especially to Stressed Outand Heathens, the Pilots’ two biggest hits.
They would close with Trees, a song about self-imposed isolation and the search for truth, and Leave the City, a soul-plumbing song about the loss of faith, in God and nearly all else.
Despite the solemn lyrical themes, however, the songs provided another moment of catharsis and deepened the empathetic connection between a congregation of devout fans and a band that sugar coats only the melodies that deliver its personal, introspective messages.
Jumpsuit; Levitate; Fairly Local; Stressed Out; Heathens; We Don’t Believe What’s on TV; The Judge; Lane Boy; Nico and the Niners; Taxi Cab; Neon Gravestones; Bandito; Pet Cheetah; Holding on to You; Iris; Hey Jude; Ride; My Blood; Morph; Car Radio. Encore: Leave the City; Trees.