Review: Twenty One Pilots try new style


Seamus McAvoy

A flaming car joined Josh Dun and Tyler Joseph, the musical duo comprising Twenty One Pilots on stage to kick off their set on Friday, Oct. 26 at TD Garden. On tour for their new album, Dun and Joseph underpin their live performance with their more popular older work, creating an interesting but acceptable conflict as their different eras clash.

Fans of the group may recognize the flaming car imagery from their “Heavydirtysoul” music video, the opening track off of their 2015 album “Blurryface,” which concludes with a fade-to-black as a car is engulfed in flames. The accompanying video for “Jumpsuit,” the opening track off of 2018’s “Trench,” begins with the same car now charred and extinguished, a visual metaphor of the group’s transition to a new era.

Twenty One Pilots has often played with visual metaphors. Their most recent album features a black and yellow color scheme, emphasized during the show by the duo clad in ski masks and military surplus jackets adorned with yellow tape. The crowd’s attire largely reflected the new visual style with everything from yellow overalls to painted faces and official band merch.

Drummer Josh Dun rocks the black and yellow color scheme of Twenty One Pilots new album “Trench.” / Photo by Brian Bae

However, it only took two songs for frontman Joseph to ditch the ski mask for his beloved red beanie, a staple of his attire from the “Blurryface” era, and play some of the songs from their breakout album.

Despite the clash of eras during the night’s setlist, Twenty One Pilots maintained the look and feel of their concerts of old. Joseph broke out the ukulele and Hawaiian shirt for the more laid-back “The Judge” and jumped off of his piano while Dun repeatedly lost his shirt while tirelessly drumming. At one point, Dun mounted a miniature drum kit suspended in the crowd by the strength of a handful of audience members.

The crowd’s enthusiasm suggested they found showmanship entertaining, but there remained a struggle between two very different sounds. It wouldn’t be fair to ask Twenty One Pilots to leave behind their old songs to fully embrace their progression as a group — much of their fan base was built off of the success of their previous album, and those fans are naturally going to want to hear the classics they’ve spent the last three years enjoying. Even so, the darker lyrics (“Don’t feed me to the vultures/I am a vulture who feeds on pain,” Joseph raps on “Levitate”) and bass-driven soundscape of their latest project are seemingly at odds with the “Blurryface” version of Twenty One Pilots, featuring a Jimmy Buffett-esque Joseph wearing sunglasses indoors and strumming his uke.

But maybe in the streaming era, track-to-track coherency doesn’t actually mean what it used to, and it seems what Twenty One Pilots are trying to do with “Trench” is actually well-intended. At least according to accepted fan theories, the group’s newest album is an extended metaphor depicting a strenuous struggle with mental illness and depression, but one that ends on a hopeful note. While I personally find the iconography rather tawdry and ultimately shallow, it is probably good that a group as popular as Twenty One Pilots continues to spread a positive message regarding mental health, especially to the younger audience that makes up much of their fan base.

Awolnation, a Los Angeles-based band fronted by Aaron Bruno, and Max Frost, a singer-songwriter and multi instrumentalist from Austin, Texas, opened for Twenty One Pilots. Frost led off the concert performing “Adderall” and “Good Morning,” the latter a colorful, feel-good track embracing the blissfulness of ignorance. “Turn the TV off ‘cause bad news, man,” Frost sings, dressed in a shiny bomber and tight faded jeans.

Awolnation entered the stage to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” before breaking into “Run,” an original song featuring a chorus repeating “I am a human being/Capable of doing terrible things.” This song in particular seemed especially corny when considered with Bruno’s rather non-threatening white blazer and pants combo with no-show socks, but the band maintained a strong energy throughout the performance.

Twenty One Pilots’ “Bandito” tour continues with Awolnation and Max Frost Oct. 31 in Washington D.C., and will run domestically through Nov. 21 before the band departs for a full slate of European dates.