Culture / Entertainment

Twenty One Pilots Prove They’re the Best Live Concert Act in Music — Sorry Springsteen

Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun Turn Shows Into Joyful Mega Events — Time After Time

BY // 11.17.19

FORT WORTH —  There are Boomers who swear Bruce Springsteen puts on the best live concerts of all time. Some of these fanatics practically plan their entire lives around The Boss’ shows. While I’ve seen Bruce live (my wife is from Philadelphia, it’s sort of a prerequisite), give me Twenty One Pilots every time.

Yes, Twenty One Pilots, the two person band that takes on issues like anxiety, depression, suicide and self harm while putting on some of the most high-energy, theatrical concerts you’ll ever experience.

Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun bring it consistently with a force few other music acts can match. Yes, they outdo even Springsteen.

Twenty One Pilots concerts are at turns showy (rising up onto the stage in a flaming car, coming out in ski masks), touching (imploring the audience to look out for each other) and energizing (Joseph has a way of getting even the people you never expect to dance to dance). Thanks to a son who is a huge fan, I’ve been to four Twenty One Pilots concerts in the last two years (in Dallas, Houston, Columbus, Ohio and most recently at the new Dickies Arena in Fort Worth).

While Fort Worth’s new $540 million showcase arena is spectacularly nice in many respects, a few first big night shortcomings actually served to amplify just how good Twenty One Pilots is live.

The newness or scale of the arena prevented Twenty One Pilots from doing some of their usual showy concert staples like Joseph popping up in an upper deck section after seemingly having just been on stage (wearing masks sometimes come in handy) and walking on a bridge over the crowd to the back stage they use to great effect.

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A few overzealous spotlight operators up in the Dickies Arena catwalk even caused Joseph to break from character and talk to the crowd about the blunders. (The spotlights were supposed to be dimmed for a quieter Joseph piano number rather than shining brightly on him as they were.)

Faced with these limitations, Twenty One Pilots actually seemed to turn even more to the music, doing a whopping 22 songs (23 if you include a karaoke crowd sing) and continuing long after Joseph first admitted to being tired. (Fort Worth was the second to last stop in an extended Bandito Tour that concluded in Tulsa the following night.)

They also recognized the christening of the arena moment.

“They say it’s the first show in this arena,” Tyler Joseph calls out at one point. “Let’s break it in right.”

With its 14,000 seats, Dickies is actually one of the smaller arenas that Twenty One Pilots plays these days. That also seemed to help bring the focus back to the music. Arena and Fort Worth officials love to tout the new arena’s custom acoustic ceiling and state of the art sound system. And there’s no doubt that Twenty One Pilots sounded fantastic in the first big event in the new building.

But Joseph’s story about how he and Dun used to show up at these small clubs with a full piano and a beyond full set of drums, drawing incredulous looks from the club owners who wondered why they bothered to drag around such a plethora of instruments for such minor gigs, drove home the point even more,

Twenty One Pilots will make any venue into a theatrical show. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever going to a Twenty One Pilots concert feeling like they didn’t get their money’s worth.

This is why two guys from the suburbs of Ohio are the kings of the live show. Joseph and Dun always deliver — no matter what is going on around them.

Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun have managed to build an entire community around Twenty One Pilots.

Consistency might not seem like a sexy rock star attribute. But in a live performance world where some major bands flake out, mail it in and even outright no show for dubious reasons, Joseph and Dun’s workmanlike commitment to make every concert special — no matter the size of the city or how they feel that night — is something to celebrate.

Twenty One Pilots does not believe in having an off night.

It’s part of the reason their largely twentysomething and younger fans are so devoted. The teenage girl who sat in front of us in Fort Worth — attending the concert with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend — brought her own giant roll of yellow duct tape to tap strips on her clothes and shoes like Joseph and Dun do.

Other Twenty One Pilots devotees camp out in the cold for a night or two in order to be close to the front in the general admission floor seating. If it all sometimes seems a tad cultish, it’s just about the sweetest cult you could ever find.

Joseph and Dun even show clips of their fans in the city they’re in — wearing their Twenty One Pilots shirts, yellow duct tape and the occasional mask of an alien named Ned (it’s a long story) — on the big screen behind the stage at every concert.

None of this works if the music isn’t great. But Twenty One Pilots is no fleeting sensation there. Songs like “Stressed Out,” “Levitate,” “My Blood” and “Neon Gravestones” — the mournful piano ballad on mental health, suicide and rock stars who take their own lives — show the depth of both the band’s range and its staying power.

“Stay With Me! Stay With Me!” Joseph calls out in chorus of “My Blood.” No worries there. Twenty One Pilots’ fans have kept with them from album after album. They toured for their Trench album for more than a year.

The best act in live music today draws the loyalty it deserves. Twenty One Pilots earns it every time they take the stage.

The Dickies Arena Verdict

Dickies Arena is no slouch either. The striking spiral staircases that seem more fit for a concert hall, the glass-tile mosaic murals depicting Western scenes, the elevated setting with views clear to downtown Fort Worth and even the bridge to the parking garage give it an unexpected sense of grandeur.

I’ve been to dozens and dozens of arenas covering sports events and few stick with you like this one. It’s also operating at a high level considering it’s only on major event No. 1. Both getting into the garage and through security into the arena went much more quickly than I expected. (It was certainly a much faster and more efficient process than what anyone who went to early events at the decidedly smaller Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land experienced.)

The breath of food options is also impressive (with everything from spring rolls to cheesesteaks offered). Though my 14-year-old son lamented the fact that there was no pizza to be found in the entire building on this night. Even the helpful lady at the information center seemed befuddled by this.

On a night when Twenty One Pilots is rocking the house, any new arena quirks or minor concerns quickly fade away. Once the show starts, the best live concert act in music today makes sure everyone leaves with a smile.

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