Concert Review

Twenty One Pilots Fans Are Truly Fanatical

I'm not sure I've ever been to a sold-out show at Comerica Theatre — or any other name — over the years. It was clear that there had been a line around the building for a good portion of the day as abandoned blankets, beverages, and snacks lined the perimeter of the building. Half the crowd was wearing Twenty One Pilots gear and the half that wasn't all seemed to be in unbelievably long lines for the merch. 

I had checked out Finish Ticket awhile back and I was fairly unimpressed. I was honestly hoping that the band's live show would prove me wrong and win me over, but I have to admit that was not the case. They cruised through five songs in under half an hour and it was all pretty unremarkable. That's not to say they don't have talent — Brendan Hoye, the lead singer, is clearly gifted and all of the band is technically astute, but the music itself is so middle of the road that it leaves virtually no impression in the end. The lead singer sang in their second song "Wrong" (though I thought it was the set's highlight) that "It's hard to find the optimist in me" and that's how I felt about most of their performance. 
There was a touch of relief that the set of the warmup act was so brief, because I had seen Echosmith at last Spring's Pot of Gold Festival and they were great. I was ready for some music that moved me, music I would remember after the show, and Echosmith delivered that with a super tight, upbeat set of seven songs that totally turned my evening around. The family band (Echosmith is three brothers and their sister) with the fantastic "Let's Love" and the whole feeling of the theater, the very mood exploded and everyone was on their feet. Lead singer Sydney Sierota has a voice similar to that of Dolores O'Riordan, mixed with a touch of Bjork and a few others from that era, but her brothers take it to the next level. They kicked in to the title track of their album Talking Dreams, and there was a fabulous balance found in the beauty of Sierota's voice and the aggression of the raging guitars. "Come Together" sealed the deal on how much I was enjoying their set, which was followed by a rolling drum intro to "Tell Her You Love Her" which proved that they could make a ballad interesting and engaging. Echosmith pulled out an acoustic guitar and a stand up bass for "Bright," which turned into a crowd singalong, and it was easily a highlight of the set, just for being so different from everything else. This was followed by their staple cover of Modern English's "I Melt With You" while "Up To You" had nearly the entire audience clapping along. They finished with their multi-platinum hit "Cool Kids," and the crowd was ecstatic with the finale.
About a half-hour later Twenty One Pilots was almost ready to take the stage. If there had been any open seats in Comerica there weren't anymore. The pit was packed, the rows overflowing into the aisles. Each roadie got huge applause as they set up the stage. The anticipation was palpable and when the theater went dark the crowd completely lost its collective mind. For the next 100 minutes the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun would hold the rapt attention of everyone in the house.

Twenty One Pilots exploded on stage with the opener from its number one album Blurryface. As soon as it began, 90 percent of the crowd sang along to every word of "Heavydirtysoul." The song isn't even a single. In a surprising move, they cruised right along on the album to their latest alternative radio hit and "Stressed Out" much to the delight of, well, everyone. I was a little worried about a duo putting on a high-energy show, the necessity of backing tracks, etc. I had nothing to worry about; Joseph and Dun are master showmen in addition to their musical talents and lyrical wizardry. While Joseph had only played tamborine on the opener, he messed around with the piano on stage during this one, but largely stuck to the microphone and jumping around stage. It finished with a beautiful reprise with Joseph on the piano and the crowd still singing. I was beginning to wonder if they were going to play the album straight out, but that's where that thought stopped.
"Guns For Hands" was the first song they played in the set from 2013's Vessel, and the crowd continued to turn every tune into a singalong. This was followed by another great song from that album, "Migraine," which in this case, the audience actually sang half of the song for the band. At this point the crowd was beyond fervent, and the band seemed to just feed off of this. Joseph picked up the bass for "Polarize," one of my favorite songs on the new album, and it became clear that he was more than just a lead singer. It was a stunning rendition of the tune in no uncertain terms. Starting with a drum solo from Dun, "House of Gold" was another crowd pleaser, but then again, every song seemed to be a crowd pleaser no matter where they pulled it from. 

It was apparently time for Joseph to break out the ukulele, probably the most unlikely instrument in their arsenal and oddly one of the most effective for this genre-bending band. With it he performed a rather sentimental cover of "Can't Help Falling In Love With You." He began "The Judge" one of their best songs from the new album with the uke and finished it on the piano. It was one of the finest performances of the evening. "Lane Boy" came next and they stepped up the stage show a notch, at first with video effects of guys in hazmat suits and gas masks dancing, to live dancers in hazmat suits and gas masks dancing—all in keeping with the lyrics. It was fascinating to watch the band as they would move seamlessly between ukulele and piano, then into hip-hop, indie rock and pop. They were all over the place and the crowd couldn't get enough of it.

After a moment of darkness on stage, Dun had suddenly moved to a new riser with a smaller kit and Joseph was in front of a keyboard. In that arrangement they ran through a medley of older songs that included "The Pantaloon," "Semi-Automatic," "Forest," "Screen," "Ode To Sleep," and "Addict With A Pen." It was actually a pretty brilliant way to deal with their some of their older catalog in an unexpected and creative way. Even though some of the songs pre-dated Vessel, the crowd knew them all, they knew every single one, even the one that can only be found on YouTube. I'm not sure if I was more amazed at the band or its incredibly loyal crowd at this point. They returned to the modern day with "Doubt" and Dun returned to his full kit mystically during the song while Joseph got the crowd to sing a long and created a round. This fell without pause into "Message Man," which was quickly overshadowed by Vessel's "Holding On To You" which was both impressive musically and physically. Both members had some of their more spectacular moments during this song, Joseph crowd surfed a bit, played some of the best piano of the evening, while Dun showed that he could toss a drumstick fifteen rows back and immediately do a back flip. A little girl caught the drumstick, then dropped it—the sweetest moment for me was when the girl behind her found it and gave it to her. The young girl cried for the rest of the song out of pure joy.

Joseph picked up the bass for the reggae/calypso influenced "Ride," which is pushed even further into a blissful realm by his supersonic rapping. This ended with a drum kit being brought into the pit for Dun to pound on while fans kept him afloat. They moved to my favorite song from Vessel after that; according to Joseph, "The Run and Go" is also his father's favorite song. At the end of the song Joseph had people get on each other's shoulders and jump up— an impressive sight. After the recovery from that foray, Joseph sat down at the piano and they launched into another recent radio hit with "Tear In My Heart" and blew the roof off with it. People were now screaming along to the songs, I imagine there will be a lot of hoarse teenagers in school on Wednesday. It was a brilliant rendition and there seemed to be an overwhelming joy during its delivery—not just the audience, but the band themselves. Joseph suggested that the next song would be the last one, unless the audience chose otherwise and launched into the amazing "Car Radio." He ran into the audience and climbed a tower, finishing the song and the set from there.

After a brief respite, they bowed to the demands of their chanting fans and returned for a two song encore of "Goner" and "Trees". The latter was a fantastic finale punctuated by both band members climbing on fan held platforms in the pit as they pounded on toms while confetti exploded around them. It was a fitting spectacular end to a truly spectacular stage show, one in which the crowd never once stopped singing along. 
Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Twenty One Pilots, Echosmith, Finish Ticket at Comerica Theater

The Crowd:
The crowd was very, very young. It was thousands of kids and their custodians or parents. Although the largest percentage of the crowd was teenage girls, there were more men proclaiming their love for Twenty One Pilots vocally. The representation of twenty somethings was a little on the light side, which surprised me. The smoking patio was a weird place because I questioned if half of the people out there were old enough to even smoke.

Random Notebook Dump: I can't remember anything Finish Ticket just played an their set ended five minutes ago. I can't place a lyric, a melody, the biggest star of the set was the lead singers hair and his constant attention to it.

Overall: With the exception of the opening band, the evening was amazing, the venue was great, the venue staff was the friendliest I've ever experienced and the concessions were actually nicely priced. I have to give props to a two-man band that put on a hell of a stage show, both visually and musically, and keep their audience engaged every second for more than 90 minutes. The show, the energy, and the pacing were perfectly devised, and everyone got to enjoy it or be consumed by it.