By Blake Drinen
It seems almost surreal that Twenty One Pilots’ illustrious career has already spanned almost an entire decade. Fruitfully working their way up through the alternative music scene with a self-titled debut record back in 2009 and acclaimed follow-up, Regional At Best, Ohio natives Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn seemed to truly burst into the mainstream with “Car Radio.” Boasting a fiery blend of pounding synths and passionate vocals, the track introduced the duo’s lyrical prowess and distinctive production to millions, eventually leading Joseph and Dunn into signing with prominent indie label Fueled By Ramen. Shortly after, they ended up releasing their first studio-backed effort, Vessel. From the surging momentum Vessel so effortlessly built up came an all-so-sudden transition into superstardom with 2015’s Grammy-winning, multi-platinum certified Blurryface, a defining moment not only in their discography but also the music industry as a whole. Three years later, after every single track off the record becoming either gold or platinum certified by the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America), a monumental first for an album released in the digital age, comes the long-awaited follow-up, Trench.
Lead singles “Jumpsuit” and “My Blood” already created an almost uncontrollable surge of anticipation for not only this newest LP but also the quickly accompanying Bandito Tour, which made one of its first stops at Chicago’s United Center this past Wednesday. With tickets selling out in mere hours after they went on sale, the world made it abundantly clear that Twenty One Pilots came nowhere close to peaking with previous hits “Stressed Out,” “Heathens,” and “Ride.” The world eagerly awaits more from Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn, and boy oh boy were they more than prepared to wholeheartedly deliver on every level imaginable.
Granted, the night started off slow with a spiritedly chipper but ultimately forgettable opening set from newcomer Max Frost. Frost possessed an appreciable amount of enthusiasm, but unfortunately, was given nowhere near the amount of time or production to make his performance truly stand out. Renditions of “Good Morning” and “Money Problems” read as particularly well-executed demonstrations of Frost’s musical charisma, but again, the set remained far too brief to properly showcase his talents to all those who arrived early.
Follow-up opener AWOLNATION was fortunately gifted a longer set alongside a larger audience, to which they made use of their time most effectively. Performing hits such as “Sail” and “Run” with bombastic buoyancy, the group immediately captured the crowd’s watching eyes with effortless ease. Frontman Aaron Bruno’s classic rockstar charm proved irresistible and appeared as utterly genuine in his interactions with the crowd, creating a natural back and forth that felt entirely satisfying.
After the customary half hour of set-up and with the anxious anticipation of the audience mounting higher and higher, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn both triumphantly emerged on stage for the main event, Dunn bearing a torch and Joseph standing atop a burning car. The duo immediately launched into an utterly astonishing rendition of Trench’s opening track, “Jumpsuit,” the crowd already on its feet and belting out every word with intense vigor. From that point on, the energy so excellently established within the opening number only seemed to build into a continuing crescendo with mega-hits “Heathens” and “Stressed Out.” While occasionally slowing down for tracks such as the ukulele-backed “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” and “The Judge,” the crowd remained right alongside the boys, everyone having the absolute time of their lives.
“Nico and the Niners” served as a joyously playful transition into the second half of the show, with Tyler Joseph literally walking along a constructed bridge that hung just above the GA pit, the crowd (myself included) gawking in pure amazement. With Joseph’s literal crossing of the pit came a swift transition into a more introspective set of songs, the duo hopping up onto their B-stage for emotionally-charged renditions of “Taxi Cab,” “Neon Gravestones,” and “Bandito.” At the group’s request, the entire arena sat down in their seats and just listened, everyone swept up in the utterly genuine nature of the musical artistry presented before them.
Transitioning back to the main stage with “Pet Cheetah,” Max Frost and AWOLNATION came out once again to join Tyler and Josh in covering The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” both of which garnered wildly positive reactions from the audience. To round out the night came a helping of tracks from Vessel, including the GA Pit hoisting Tyler up to perform “Holding On To You” and the track that started it all: “Car Radio.” Their encore perhaps brought out the most audience participation with the melodic and melancholic “Leave the City” and ultimately ending with “Trees,” with everyone joyously jumping along, confetti raining down from the ceiling, and Josh and Tyler being held up by the GA pit one final time.
A bold and beautiful accompaniment to the already phenomenal Trench, what Twenty One Pilots do with the Bandito Tour is nothing short of breathtaking. A shot of pure adrenaline, a roaring cry of catharsis, and a love letter to fans both old and new, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn create a concert experience few can replicate. Right before “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV,” Tyler himself proclaimed “We’re going to give you everything we have tonight. We’re going to lay it all out there.” There is not much more that I can say beyond that Twenty One Pilots most certainly did. The group gave it everything they got, and I could not admire them anymore than I already do for that very fact.