Review: Twenty One Pilots Rocks Columbus in ‘Hometown’ Shows

Fans of twenty one pilots descended on Columbus, Ohio last week from around the state, country and even the world.

twenty one pilots at Newport Music Hall // PC: Columbus Underground; Photo by Matt Ellis

While being part of the band’s homecoming Tour De Columbus was coveted by countless fans, the five-night mini-tour offered space for only under 100,000. And for those lucky fans, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun gave their all, holding nothing back onstage and giving the crowds exactly what they came for.

Tour De Columbus served both as a homecoming for local superstars twenty one pilots and as a way to thank the fans who have supported them for years. The duo began the week playing at The Basement, an intimate venue that holds roughly 300, and moved its way to Nationwide Arena and the Schottenstein Center for a pair of arena shows by the week’s end.

Saturday’s show at Nationwide Arena opened with PUBLIC, another band native to Ohio. With a vibe similar to Saint Motel, sans trumpets, PUBLIC served as a decent opening act, if nothing else.

While the band’s performance was fine musically, the group did little to grab the attention of those who had never heard of them before. The band’s most recent EP, Sweet Lemonade, is worth a listen, but the generic performance (and lack of engaging stage presence) hasn’t driven me to become a fan and pick up a copy.

The second group of the night was Judah & The Lion, which opened for twenty one pilots for part of the Emotional Roadshow Tour. This is a band that displays the “it factor” that can energize an audience, command it to dance and create new fans on the spot.

twenty one pilots during their Emotional Roadshow Tour // PC: Live Nation

I hadn’t heard of the group until I, on a whim, attended a concert it headlined at Chicago’s House of Blues in March. Immediately after that show, I downloaded the band’s sophomore album, Folk Hop ‘n’ Roll, which has been part of my regular rotation ever since.

As their latest album title suggests, Judah & The Lion blend hip-hop vocals and drum pads with the folky sounds of the mandolin and banjo for a style that spans genres. Most of the songs that made up its recent setlist are addictive and fresh; the kind of songs that are easy to dance, clap, or bob a head to, even if they’re brand new to the listener.

The band complimented its original music with a cover of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” and goofy moments like a choreographed routine to T-Pain’s “Booty Wurk.”

Then, came the headlining act and hometown boys, twenty one pilots. After hitting the stage to the loudest roar I’ve ever heard an audience muster, the duo dove straight into “Heavydirtysoul” and kept the music coming for two hours straight. The setlist pulled from the band’s three “official” albums (Twenty One Pilots, Vessel and Blurryface), the Suicide Squad hit “Heathens,” and a handful of covers. The show featured a remarkably even split between tracks from Vessel and Blurryface, leaving only a couple from each album unplayed.

The band’s self-titled album was represented in a medley about halfway through the show, when the two jammed on a mini-stage in the pit reminiscent of the house parties and tiny venues where they got their start as a band.

Those who attended the Emotional Roadshow Tour knew much of what they could expect for the Tour De Columbus, but it didn’t stop the audience from being ecstatic beyond comprehension, nor did it stop the duo from bringing an incredibly high-energy performance.

Though the night was, in a literal sense, just another iteration of a routine practiced hundreds of times, it was so much more in a figurative sense. At various points throughout the concert, both Josh and Tyler exhibited looks of disbelief, awe for their fans and sheer gratitude. They were home. In return, the two gave the crowd everything they had.

The night was full of stunts ranging from a backflip by Josh to a disappearing act that transported Tyler from the stage to the nosebleed seats in mere seconds. At one point, Josh played a snare beat with a drumline of figures in hazmat suits. At another point, Tyler rolled atop the pit in a giant hamster ball. The theatrics even took crowdsurfing to the next level, with Josh playing the drums on a platform suspended in the pit.

twenty one pilots during their Emotional Roadshow Tour // PC: Live Nation

But the show wasn’t full of just smoke and mirrors; the duo played and sang their hearts out as well. Whether it was Josh slaying the drum solo to “Lane Boy” or Tyler strumming away to the band’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, the performance was a musical treat as well. Tyler’s vocals carried the same energy and passion, from rapping to screaming and everything in between.

Really, that’s what twenty one pilot’s performance was all about: passion. The two showed their passion for music, passion for their fans and passion for putting on a show to remember. The fans showed more than enough passion for the band in return, erupting in thunderous roars by far the loudest of any concert I’ve attended. The sheer energy inside Nationwide Arena may very well be the most memorable part of the already unforgettable evening.

Coupled with the energy was a sense of oneness. The crowd was diverse, from little girls still in grade school that could rap every word to every song, to grandparents trying their best to sing along, but no arbitrary descriptors mattered. During the band’s closer, “Trees,” when the instruments went silent and the whole arena sang while a giant circle of fans locked arms and swayed together in the pit, an incredible sense of togetherness and peace descended upon the crowd. One couldn’t help but be reminded that all else aside, everyone was gathered to soak in a very special hometown show to help close out the band’s Blurryface era.

It’s cliche to say that music brings people together, but the Tour De Columbus did exactly that. It served as a week of wonder as a swarm of the band’s biggest fans gathered to celebrate the local dreamers’ breakout success. In the same way that a graduation ceremony is fulfilling for a parent watching his or her child grow up, it was easy to see that the fans and band both had the same thought on their minds: “Columbus, Ohio: we made it.”

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