Concert review: Twenty One Pilots lead choir of thousands when Bandito Tour hits Phoenix

Twenty One Pilots perform at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Friday, Nov. 9, in Phoenix.

It’s been two years since Twenty One Pilots first played Talking Stick Resort Arena.

And the brand of showmanship that made their first appearance in that venue such an entertaining spectacle was very much in evidence from the time they took the stage for Friday’s sold-out stop on the Bandito Tour. 

Drama and a car in flames

The show got off to a dramatic start when the curtain fell, revealing drummer Josh Dun on a darkened stage, holding a torch, his face obscured by a yellow bandanna.

As Dun climbed behind his kit, Tyler Joseph rose from beneath the stage in a ski mask and camouflage jacket, crouched atop a flaming car.

And with that, the genre-mashing alt-pop duo from Ohio launched directly into “Jumpsuit,” the track that also sets the stage for “Trench,” their much-anticipated followup to “Blurryface.” 

That song gave way to “Levitate,” the second track on “Trench,” the car engulfed in flames behind them. That apocalyptic theme was mirrored later, during “Lane Boy,” when two men in gas masks and jumpsuits emerged to douse the fans down front with smoke.

They followed “Levitate” with “Fairly Local,” during which Joseph fell backwards off a riser through an opening in the stage floor.

Seconds later, the spotlight was trained on a man in a ski mask in the upper reaches of the venue, who removed his mask to reveal himself as Joseph.

It’s an illusion they did last time they were here and you can see why they repeated it, although it clearly has more impact the first time you see it, like any good magic trick.

Massive sing-alongs, serious fans

As a video starring their trademark red beanie concluded, a beanie was lowered to the center mic, where Joseph grabbed it, put it on and launched into their biggest single, “Stressed Out,” followed by their second-biggest single, “Heathens.”

Those songs both inspired massive sing-alongs, of course. But so did nearly every song they played, from “Taxi Cab,” a track off their 2009 debut, to the nine songs they featured from “Trench,” which has barely been out a month.

That’s just how serious their fans are. Many even showed up dressed in yellow beanies, yellow tape and camouflage, to mirror the visual theme of this new album.

These are anxious times for music fans of any age. And they’ve tapped into that 21st Century wave of anxiety, offering fans the catharsis of singing along to line as sure to resonate as “Wish we could turn back time to the good old days / When our mama sang us to sleep / But now we’re stressed out.”

Midway through the concert, Joseph took a “sky-bridge thing,” as he called it, to a satellite stage at the back of the venue, joined by Dun for an intimate set that Joseph said was dedicated to their fathers. 

“Our dads came up to us before the tour started,” the singer explained, “and said, ‘Hey guys, could you find a spot in your long concert where we could sit down? Our legs hurt.”

Encouraging the fans to take a seat, he took his place at an upright piano to start that portion of the show with “Taxi Cab,” followed by “Neon Gravestones,” “Bandito” and “Pet Cheetah.”

Joseph gets emotional

Then, it was back to the main stage, where a shirtless Dun showed off the “PHX” he’d scrawled across his abs.

After leading the fans in yet another rousing sing-along on their first single, “Holding On to You,” the singer told the crowd how much this moment meant to him.

“I want you to know that this is what Josh and I, this right here, is what we saw in our heads for so many years,” he said. “You guys.”

Then they brought back Awolnation and Max Frost, their openers, to join them on crowd-pleasing covers of the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris” and the Beatles classic “Hey Jude.”

After bringing the show to a climax with “Morph” and “Car Radio,” they left the stage, returning for a two-song encore.

Joseph turned the vocals over to the fans on “Leave the City,” telling them “There’s nowhere else in the world we’d rather be than right here, and I’ll tell you right now, you guys have been the best show of the entire tour” before bringing the night to a close with “Trees.”

As Joseph remarked, they’ve been closing their shows with that song for a while now and it’s easy to see why.

For all the showmanship and spectacle that goes into the staging of their shows, the dedication of those fans may have a little more to do with the emotional connection they’ve managed to make with their music.

It sure felt that way on “Trees,” where Joseph’s soulful reading of the lyrics was backed by a choir of several thousand voices who looked like they were feeling it as much as he was.

Setlist

Jumpsuit (with “Heavydirtysoul” intro)
Levitate
Fairly Local
Stressed Out (“Red Beanie” Intro)
Heathens
We Don’t Believe What’s on TV
The Judge
Lane Boy
Nico and the Niners
Taxi Cab
Neon Gravestones
Bandito
Pet Cheetah
Holding on to You
Iris (Goo Goo Dolls cover, with Awolnation and Max Frost)
Hey Jude (Beatles cover, with Awolnation and Max Frost)
Ride
My Blood
Morph
Car Radio

Leave the City
Trees

Reach the writer at ed.masley@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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