By Brian Ives
“We’re Twenty One Pilots and so are you!” So said Tyler Joseph last night (August 11) at the end of the alt-rock duo’s second of two sold out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden last night; it was also the last night of their “Emotional Roadshow World Tour.”
Lots of bands, especially in their first few years, tend to reference their fans as being “part of the band,” but few seem to mean it as much as Twenty One Pilots. And despite having graduated to arenas, they seem intent on keeping that connection strong.
Like many others (including U2 and Coldplay), they have a smaller second stage that they perform part of their show from. Like other acts, their frontman will occasionally venture into the audience. And like the Flaming Lips and Diplo, they have a giant bubble that allows them to venture into the crowd (last night drummer Josh Dun found himself bouncing over the audience).
But unlike other acts, Joseph also sings one song from the upper level, and another one from a tiny platform high above the second stage. Dun even played one song on a small drum kit on a wooden platform that was carried over the audience.
The day before, Radio.com spoke to the guys prior to their first MSG show, and they discussed their intense bond with audience. Dun said, “I think what resonates a lot with us is the idea of a community of people using music in a deeper way than just background music, or something to party to. And what’s happened is, [the band] has kind of built up with a bunch of people who use music in a powerful way, and when we can all get into a room together and use it, it becomes this really cool, special moment. And I think that that’s what tonight and tomorrow night are going to be about.”
The show had several special moments: the ten thousand-plus people in the audience seemed to know every word to every song and served as a giant backing vocal section. Whether it was a sonically dense song (the duo fill out their sound with lots of prerecorded tracks), or just Joseph singing and playing his ukulele, the fans ate it up.
They also had a sense of community with their opening acts, Mutemath and Chef’Special, who they invited onto the stage for a few covers, including “Twist and Shout,” House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” (!).
Like arena pros like U2 and Coldplay, nearly every song had a different look, between the lighting design, the band’s costumes and the location of the arena where they performed from. It’s something they said they’ve been working on for a long time. Joseph explained, “The live show is very important to us, we’ve been working on that a lot. This show you’re going to see has been in the works for seven months now. The concept and the name and the setlist and the transitions and the tracks.”
That effort was readily apparent; the excitement level never seemed to wane throughout the nearly two-hour show, and that’s as much thanks to the thrilling visual elements as the strength of the songs (and occasionally, they stripped things down to either keyboards and drums or ukulele and drums, pointing out that they don’t need all of the extra audio effects to rock an arena).
As Joseph said before last night’s show, “We’re really lucky and fortunate to say that tonight is the first night that we’ve ever played at Madison Square Garden. A lot of bands have opened up for other bands at Madison Square Garden. I’m proud that this is the first time we’re playing here, and we’re headlining. We worked really hard for that.”
Despite the size of the venue, the show always felt intimate, especially when Joseph thanked the band’s road manager, who’d been with them for years, and who was leaving the band’s crew after the show. Then there was the moment when he noted that the first time he’d actually been to Madison Square Garden, his grandmother took him there to see the circus. He noted that, last night, his Grandma Joan was actually in the audience.
“You have to give them something where they walk away and say, ‘I want more of that,'” Joseph told me on Wednesday afternoon. “To create something like that, you have to take them on a journey.” And that’s just what they do. Twenty One Pilots has been taking their fans on that journey for about seven years now, and, judging by last night’s show, that journey can last decades.