It is impossible to accurately describe what it means to attend a twenty one pilots show. You could try stringing together an infinite amount of words in any combination, and nothing will ever come remotely close to doing the true experience justice. And it is an experience. With every new tour, regardless of whether or not they have released new music, best friends Tyler Joseph and Joshua Dun will always bring something new to the table, ready to blow your minds in ways you never thought possible. The New Zealand leg of the band’s aptly named EMØTIØNAL RØADSHØW marked the band’s second headline tour in our country, following a show at the Powerstation less than two years prior. The duo took their growth in popularity in their stride, easily filling the 2 NZ arenas with stunning theatrics.
Setting us off with a fairly creepy, yet understatedly meaningful curtain projection of Tyler’s alter-ego, Blurryface, we were treated to a snippet of the band’s first single off their latest album, Fairly Local. The re-introduction of this track to the live show is an ode to fans of old, reminding us of where we started, and that despite the sold out New Zealand shows, they will never forget that we will always remain ” the few, the proud, the emotional“.
The curtain was pulled away to reveal Tyler and Josh donning black balaclavas and personalised red suit jackets, and at this point the crowd was split between relentless screaming and desperate rapping as Fairly Local seamlessly transitioned into the fast-paced Heavydirtysoul. twenty one pilots don’t need warming up, and they don’t expect us to either. This is made obvious within the first three minutes, during which Tyler sets the tone for the entire evening, forcing all of his energy into throwing himself onto his back in what can only be described as a ‘death drop’, before bounding around the stage, in what feels like an introduction – as if he would ever need such a thing.
There are certain tracks with every musician that give fans a sense of familiarity; a feeling of being home. 2013’s Migraine is certainly one of those tracks. Tyler happily stood back as the crowd faultlessly rapped the first verse without him, further proving the relentless dedication of the band’s fanbase – the Skeleton Clique. These throwbacks allowed for moments of nostalgia, as we were reminded of a time not too long ago where speaking the name twenty one pilots would have you met with a blank face of pure confusion. Looking around at the stupendous glow of the sold out Auckland and Wellington crowds as we were catapulted back to the present with Blurryface’s Hometown (involving a wild magic trick), it was hard to believe that was ever the case.
There wasn’t a single moment throughout the two hour set that their energy wavered. As we jumped around, sweating, and begging for water, Tyler and Josh maintained an impressive level of vitality and composure as they put everything they had into beloved masterpieces such as Message Man and Heathens, always ensuring that the entire set came together to create something greater than what we might ordinarily take from the songs themselves. That they are born showmen is something that cannot be denied.
While everything that happened throughout the show was clearly meticulously planned out, there were special moments in which Tyler stepped away from his on stage persona in order to address things directly. As fans camped on the concrete the evening before the band hit Welly’s TSB Bank Arena stage, we were subject to a minor earthquake, and just prior to playing the ukulele driven House of Gold and We Don’t Believe What’s On TV, Tyler informed us that it was the first one he had ever experience and that he had been terrified. It’s interruptions like these that fans hold onto, since in a sea of regimented movements, they are real and they are ours alone.
That’s not to say, though, that the diligently planned moments of band/fan connection aren’t incredibly special, too, as following the Screen/The Judge mashup (during which we were blessed with giant projections of Josh’s face on all three screens), we were left repeatedly singing, “We’re broken people”, bringing the huge crowds together in one, beautiful melody. This part of the set perfectly combines the best live show you will ever experience, with a safe place to be confidently and explicitly not okay – something that drew many of the fans to the band in the first place, and something that is vitally important in a world that stigmatises mental health issues.
At this point, we were given a 5 minute respite from the tears which were inevitably pouring down our faces, as the ukulele was taken backstage, and possibly the most energetic part of the set ensued in the form of Laneboy. From people sporting hazmat suits spraying the crowd with dry ice, to Tyler instructing us to “get low, get low“, before we jumped up and absolutely lost our shit during the breakdown, there wasn’t a second to catch your breath, and the crowd thrived on it.
This emotional recess was short-lived, though, as our attention was drawn to the screens at the side of the main stage. The creative use of these screens was perhaps my favourite new feature of the EMØTIØNAL RØADSHØW, constantly filling in gaps during which either Tyler or Josh were required elsewhere. At this point, we were distracted with ~vintage~ 2011 footage of twenty one pilots performing with the same limitless enthusiasm as we see today, to crowds 10,000 times larger, as back in the arena they made the move from the main stage to the smaller B stage at the back of the pit. Here, they appeared wearing what seemed to be the very same skeleton hoodies that they were wearing in the footage, ripped arms and all, taking us back to the late 2014 music clip of Ode to Sleep. It was this that they then swiftly launched into, giving the back half of the arena a close-up view of their favourite band, as those at the front rapped their hearts out at the images on the brilliantly integrated screens.
“I know it been a little weird so far. But that’s how we like it.”
As if the heart-wrenching flashback of watching Josh and Tyler perform to three people wasn’t enough, the band then stripped it back as they tackled two of their most painful releases back to back. The short set saw no dry eyes, as we were taken on another nostalgia trip with one of tøp’s earliest releases, Addict With a Pen, which smoothly transitioned into their hauntingly stunning rendition of My Chemical Romance’s Cancer. The theatrics that had been consistently present (almost obnoxiously so) up until that point were gone, as Tyler sung the lyrics with total sincerity, and Josh’s face remained solemn and determined, successfully creating a sense of intimacy that is often difficult to achieve with such large crowds.
As the lights dimmed again, our tears quickly rescinded, as our attention was drawn back to the main stage where we witnessed real-life Josh kick pixel-Josh’s ass in a drum battle that ended in a literal head explosion, an appropriate result considering his mind-blowing drumming skills. While this acted as a filler in order to give Tyler time to make his way back to the main stage, nothing about it felt like a distraction, since unlike with many drummers, Josh’s persistently outstanding stage presence is a huge part in what makes tøp’s live shows so extraordinary.
twenty one pilots’ ability to engage with every single member of the audience is second to none, and their reliance on the crowd for the show makes every member feel actively involved, and, more poignantly, as though they are integral parts of making this tour as exceptional as it truly is. This second part of the set sees this interaction put into motion in a multitude of ways, starting with Tyler being held up only by the crowd as he rapped the first few lines of Holding Onto You in the mosh pit, again creating a physical and mental closeness with the audience that would otherwise be impossible to feel.
As these interactions continued to pop up, it became apparent just how crazy they are. When I finally looked at my phone at the end of the show, I found texts from others in the crowd who were seeing the band for the first time, filled with exclamations of disbelief that Josh was drumming on top of the crowd during the last few moments of Ride, or that Tyler was actually running on top of the crowd in a giant, red hamster ball at the end of Guns for Hands. This band goes above and beyond anything that has ever been expected of them, and the trust that they place in us to keep them safe in such vulnerable positions is the most humbling notion considering their otherwise anxious tendencies.
The whole, putting-ourselves-in-harm’s-way thing continued when the pair played the pre-encore fan fave Car Radio, and Tyler disappeared from the stage to make his way once more to the back of the arena to climb a dangerously high podium, rip off his balaclava, and finish the song with the worrying dramatics that we fans have come to both dread and adore. While it was just one of many climactic finales of the evening, it was, as always, the perfect one to push us into begging for an encore. Our request was granted, and what an encore it was.
Goner and Trees are two paradoxical tracks in that they are fairly sad and intense, and yet at the same time, offer rejuvenation and hope for both the band and the crowd. Technical difficulties in Wellington ensured that Goner was particularly special, as Tyler admitted that he didn’t want to skip it, but that he would need our help to get through it. This, again, highlighted the reciprocal love and reliance that defines our relationship with both him and Josh, and forged a connection that rarely occurs at a live show of this size. The catharsis that washed over the crowd during those few minutes only continued as they went on to close the show with Vessel’s Trees, a staple for the band’s setlist, but one that never gets old despite having now experienced it eight times. The final moments, where Josh and Tyler are on top of the crowd for the first time together is the final push you need to go absolutely nuts before they return to the stage for the farewell bow.
As if it weren’t by now abundantly clear:
They are twenty one pilots, and so are we
Heavydirtysoul (Fairly Local intro)
We Don’t Believe What’s on TV (House of Gold intro)
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis cover)
Ode to Sleep
Addict With a Pen
Cancer (My Chemical Romance cover)
Holding Onto You
Jump Around (House of Pain cover)
Guns for Hands
Tear in My Heart