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Twenty One Pilots @ Save Mart Center, Fresno CA 02/14/17

It was Valentine’s Day and this concert was our couple’s outing. My wife and I are casual admirers of Twenty One Pilots. My first exposure to them was the single “Tear in my Heart.” It was a quirky single, danceable and fun. It’s rare for a big name in the rock genre to tour this area of California, so I jumped on the chance to be able to see this concert locally. This was a younger rock fan’s show. Meaning, there was no wait time for alcohol! The day after the concert I was telling my buddy at work (yes, I went in to work the next morning) that it had been a very long time since I had experienced a show where the majority of the audience wasn’t old enough to drink and probably had school the next morning. Back to the group, this duo is part of a new wave of alternative rock and yet it’s unfair to classify them that way, as they bridge multiple genres. However, their sound is heavily associated with alternative hip-hop, electropop with some dancehall and island flavorings. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Tyler Joseph’s singing style wasn’t something that I’m normally into. Much of the time, his singing borders on sing-songy quasi rapping. Quirky and off-beat, but it helps give this duo a unique identity among their peers in the alt-rock world. Bottom line, their sound is fun and energetic with introspective lyrics, and it was impressive to see a newer group that isn’t a country or mainstream pop act fill an arena, especially in this area. The Save Mart Center was FULL. My eyes bugged out.

This tour was called the Emotional Road Show. Like I had previously stated, while the music can be fun, it can also be touching and through provoking, just listen to “Goner” for an idea of their deeper lyrical reaches. Fun, melodic and accessible, however Twenty One Pilots are not a mainstream act. Granted, they’re Grammy winners and they’ve’ been around close to 10 years – I feel they continue to playfully flirt with the mainstream. “Ride” and “Stressed Out” were championed early on by the likes of ALTnation, however top 40 terrestrial radio played those songs to death, along with “Heathens.” I think It’s more fitting to call Twenty One Pilots a huge cult band. And the Central Valley youth were out en masse.

This group is great at doing the unexpected. These surprises were very original for an arena show. The live show is one of the most atypical concert productions my lady and I had ever witnessed. It’s a minimalistic show but it’s also very high tech. It’s also very interactive with unexpected crowd participation. The first surprise was multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph’s disappearing act. Near the close of “Hometown,” Tyler sat at the upright piano onstage and became draped with a dark colored sheet. He continued to sing and play piano. A short rest occurred and the spot lights quickly converged above us in section 217. A masked Tyler Joseph appeared above us, it was like he materialized out of thin air. He was wedged between the first row and the barrier, singing the outro to the song, lifting up his mask at song’s end and waving to the astonished crowd. We were freaking out. Wait, how the hell did he do that? Another great moment came when the entire arena shouted the ‘YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!’ portions of the ukulele flavored “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV.” We geeked out again when Josh Dunn crowd surfed…WITH his drum kit. Crew members brought out a secondary drum kit – the hardware and drums were fixed to a piece of plywood around 6’x6′. Another geek out moment when Josh’s did a drum battle with…himself? This was awesome. Josh Dunn soloed against a prerecorded video of himself. The timing and choreography made for a unique drum battle. Live Josh battled virtual Josh on screen. At another point in the set, a fan, Patrick, was brought onstage to battle Tyler in a game of Mario Kart. And the greatest, single most jaw dropping moment during the set was the 90s/00s mega medley. The group invited openers Judah & Lion onstage for a duet. The two groups bounced into a hoppin’ version of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping,” a 90’s gem (or irritating POS, depending on your tastes). At the close of “Tubthumping,” the members of 21 Pilots and Judah & The Lion were joined by second opener Jon Bellion, and the all-star team slid into a swingin’ version of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” continuing to the blow the young minds in Save Mart Center. The guys did an excellent job of performing the songs true to form, in hindsight, they may have been singing over the actual recordings. The soul and New Jack Swing of “No Diggity” got the crowd grooving. Even Judah Akers, vocalist for Judah & The Lion, was busting out with some funky foot work on stage. The medley then transitioned into another classic, The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?” and the crowd continued to dig on the live DJ set that was being performed. Bellion smoothly crooned his way through Fergi’s parts and we continued to be awe-struck. And then, out of the nowhere, “Where is the Love?” comes to a close and the horn fanfare intro to House of Pain’s immortal “Jump Around” plays over the PA. That’s when the children of the 90s in the crowd truly lost their shit. All around us we could hear people yell “woah!” and “holy crap!” The entire arena jumped up and got down. The whole arena was bouncing and it was so cool seeing all the wide eyed, smiling faces. The concert was surprising, fun, and at the same time the guys could dial it down and show us their passionate and humble side. The most startling musical moment of the concert was Tyler’s poignant rendition of “Cancer,” a My Chemical Romance original. It was heartbreaking. There wasn’t any other way to describe it. Tyler sat at the upright piano and was bathed in dark blue light while he sang the melancholy yet stirring lyrics. The vocal delivery and the piano lines fit the song perfectly. Tyler made it his own song: soulful and bitter-sweet. The whole set went done amazingly well with my favorite selection being “Ride” off of Blurryface. Tyler played bass while Josh laid down a groove with sequencers in support. It was a thumping, fun performance, I just wish Tyler would hold that B note when singing the chorus, Instead he shortened it to a quarter note, letting the audience fill in. Minor gripe but still a unique concert.

My only major criticism about the concert was the duo’s reliance on backing tracks and sequencers. Ok, I get that there are only two guys in the group. But what may seem like a weakness is actually a strength for this group. Two performers leave an uncluttered stage setup. This minimalist approach serves the group and the production very well – the focus is on the two group members as well as the giant digital displays behind them. No distractions, no silly props or toys. The Central Valley still got one heck of treat.