Playwright Arthur Miller probably would have never guessed that his play All My Sons would be the inspiration for the band that college friends Tyler Joseph, Nick Thomas, and Chris Sahlih would come to form. Twenty One Pilots, based on Miller’s premise of a man caught in a moral dilemma after being responsible for the deaths of 21 pilots in World War II, released their first album in 2009. By 2011, Thomas and Sahlih left the band and drummer Josh Dun took their place; from there, Twenty One Pilots has come a long way from a garage band selling their CDs in the halls of a local high school in Columbus, Ohio.
Last Sunday, January 22nd, I drove up to Charlottesville with a small group of friends to experience the Twenty One Pilots concert at the John Paul Jones Arena, and I do mean experience. The show began with two opening acts before getting to Twenty One Pilots, and the crowd was just as excited for the openers as they were for the main event. Judah and the Lion and Jon Bellion performed in that order, singing songs from their latest albums as well as covers of crowd favorites, like Mr. Brightside by the Killers. Twenty One Pilots’ two members, Joseph and Dun, took the stage shortly after Job Bellion, and the whole arena went nuts.
Typical for their off-the-wall style, Twenty One Pilots came out wearing black ski masks with Dun on the drums and Joseph singing, though he would spend the rest of the show playing various instruments as well, including a ukulele, and piano. Each song inspired a new variation of their striking red, white, and black look – sometimes they’d wear a different colored ski mask, different shirt, or to the teenage girls’ enthusiasm, no shirt. My personal favorite part of this red, white, and black tradition was Joseph’s bright red socks peeping out from under his skinny black pants. To match their uniformed look, the stage and lighting were also red, white, and black, all to match the coverart of their latest album, Blurryface.
The crowd was filled with middle schoolers, middle aged adults, college students, and small children. Every age enjoyed the show that Joseph and Dun put on as they performed Blurryface, along with favorites from their previous albums. They showed home movie clips from their time as a garage band, playing for only friends and family, and discussed how humble and blessed they are to have a crowd willing to listen to them. At one point, they pulled Judah and the Lion and Jon Bellion back out to play covers of the songs they had all loved growing up, and as a group they serenaded the crowd with No Diggity and several other classics.
As a casual fan, I was pleasantly surprised at how amazing Twenty One Pilots was with not only performing their own work, but at interacting with the crowd. Joseph walked on the crowd and later on, Dun played the drums on a platform that the audience held up. There was a separate, smaller stage at the opposite end of the main stage in the arena, and they spent a significant portion of the concert playing on the second stage. Both performers put forth all of their effort to give their crowd the best possible show they could put on, and we, even the non-die-hard-fans, were amazed at Twenty One Pilots’ musical and theatric skill. If you get the chance to go to one of their concerts, don’t hesitate. Go, and enjoy an evening of good music and smiling so hard your cheeks hurt.