Columbus’ own Twenty One Pilots played the first of two shows in Nationwide Arena on Saturday night, both sold out almost immediately when tickets went on sale last October. The group is riding a meteoric rise to fame that began in 2015 with its second label release, “Blurryface,” and its subsequent Grammy Award. The band’s singles have broken numerous sales records and its tours are hugely successful.
All of which confounds many critics and casual listeners outside the band’s cult-like following.
Saturday night’s dazzling concert required no deep explanations and no examination of the group’s core demographic — which appeared to skew young, female, and urban — to explain its fevered following. With a style that is a neat summation of most of today’s music currents, the duo of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun rocked the house with youthful energy, considerable technique and a production expertly designed to push all the right buttons.
Which is not to say that the personal and spiritual base of their recordings — the more complicated answer for the band’s detractors — was left unattended. In a display of loyalty unrivaled by the Grateful Dead’s famed tribe of “Deadheads,” national and international Pilots fans began queuing in lines five days before the first show in a now codified, self-governing ritual.
The band’s spiritual hold on its fans is sometimes interpreted in religious terms. The group’s Christian faith and lyrics that clearly search for salvation are cited in numerous Christian websites eager to claim the group. Half way through “Fairly Local” Saturday night, Joseph fell into something like a grave and almost immediately emerged, as though resurrected, at the other end of the floor to finish the song.
As the band performed a few casual songs from a small stage at the back, a pack of light strands descended on it, lingered for a while, and returned to the venue’s heavens as though beckoning the performers. A handful of lyrics reinforced the songs’ religious leanings.
In a more secular view, the testimonials from at-risk fans that thank the group for warding off suicidal urges, were reflected in the fitful, sometimes tearful, expressions at the front of the crammed floor audience.
While the life affirming words and symbols were there Saturday night, the passion was more evident in Joseph’s delivery and the group’s performance, which at times produced delirious partying. The singer was a convincing rapper, a supple bass player, and an expressive pianist, all while managing cues for costume changes, a dance across a long bridge to the second stage, popping up in odd corners of the floor, and singing while surfing the crowd standing.
Dun was a bundle of energy, nailing the beat squarely and decorating it with muscular accents. He never seemed secondary to Joseph and clearly was the musical backbone.
The arrangements were rounded out by taped backing tracks that mostly added keyboard parts. They were subtle, except during a couple tunes in which they drowned out Joseph’s ukulele.
All of it added up to a nearly non-stop party that convincingly answered the band’s critics.
Bear Hands opened with a short set.