twenty one pilots – Oxford O2 Academy, 07/11/15

I missed the beginning of Jeremy Loops set because I was eating (oh, bite me – I was hungry!) and I’m not sure exactly how many of his songs I missed, but I managed to get there for his last four. I was pleased to see that much of his set, especially because it included an awesome mash-up of Jeremy’s own song ‘Down South’ with a cover of ‘Three Little Birds’.
It’s not surprising, going by the name, that Jeremy Loops does indeed work with a loop pedal – that’s just a given! But what I did find surprising was Jeremy’s regular switching between the guitar and the ukulele, and the multitude of instruments his band could play, including some harmonica, a bit of trumpet, a lot of drumming and a various assortments of other instruments – some of which I don’t even know the names of.
I was expecting something eclectic, but I don’t think I’d been anticipating anything of this magnitude. The beat was infectious and it was impossible not to dance along or join in on the singing bits, because Jeremy’s enthusiasm was contagious. He seemed so grateful to be playing a show of this size, and thanked twenty one pilots multiple times for choosing him to open up for them, sharing how important it is for him choosing his support acts at home in Cape Town.
I hadn’t expected the crowd reaction to be as energetic as it was, but it genuinely did have the buzz that would normally surround a headline performance, which was commendable for an artist who was very unknown over here in the UK. The hand bounce along to ‘Running Away’ involved nearly every member of the crowd, and it really was so much fun.
My favourite moment of his set was definitely the end of ‘See, I Wrote It For You’. Jeremy had encouraged the crowd to sing along with the words, teaching it to the crowd, which was brilliant enough – the reaction was good, and the song was fun and made it impossible to stand still. However, the thing that really blew me away was the fact that Jeremy had recorded the crowd singing on his loop pedal, and at the end of the set – after he’d finished the song and had said all of his goodbyes – he played the loop back and dived straight back into the song for a little reprise. For a support act to do something that ballsy was impressive, to finish the set and then start again could have gone down badly, but it was brilliantly received and he owned the stage.
Jeremy is returning to Oxford in January, headlining his own show at The Bullingdon just down the road, and the likelihood is that I’m going to be attending – keep an eye out for the review!



Setlist:

My Shoes
Down South/Three Little Birds
Running Away
See, I Wrote It For You

Full disclosure here: I was not looking forward to this show.
I know, it’s a shock. After my rave review of the show at Electric Brixton a year ago, I’d thought there was never going to come a time when I didn’t anticipate a twenty one pilots show for weeks before the day arrived. I had been excited soon after booking the tickets, but the excitement went stale in my mouth because of one reason, and one reason alone.
I don’t like ‘Blurryface’.
Or, rather, I didn’t. I feel so bad for admitting that, because twenty one pilots were my favourite band this time last year: they were my favourite band up until six months ago, but then everything went downhill for me. I wasn’t happy to be going to the show, nearly not even bothering to attend, because – as it said in the name Blurryface World Tour – I knew the band were going to be favouring the inclusion of new material, and I knew most of the songs I loved were not going to make the cut.
The surprising thing? Things actually flipped on the night. I detest ‘Blurryface’ as a recording; it feels over-produced, it feels lazy and it feels like the passion has left the band. It’s completely the opposite to ‘Vessel’, with the heartfelt, deep and meaningful lyrics that every single person could relate to in some way, shape or form. But, for some reason, the songs from ‘Blurryface’ work live. It might be because they’re fresh and new, while ‘Vessel’ has been toured for three years now, but it seemed to ignite something in the crowd and that seemed to fire the band up more.
Choosing to open with ‘heavydirtysoul’ was a genius move, because of the frenetic energy that is inherent in the song itself. Vocalist Tyler Joseph was having some problems with his microphone, so it was a struggle to hear him throughout the entirety of the song, but the crowd carried him – the room sang through the entire night, and was oftentimes louder than the band themselves, showing just how popular these songs have proven to be.
Follow up ‘Stressed Out’ also worked brilliantly, with the shout of “Wake up, you need to make money!” reverberating through every corner of the building.
But, for a strong opening two songs there were an equally weaker two to match them, and I’m sorry to say that in this instance that was ‘Guns For Hands’ and ‘Migraine’. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve seen them performed at a far superior level, but they fell flat for me, nowhere near the mark of excellence I’ve come to expect at a twenty one pilots show. The backing track on ‘Guns For Hands’ was much louder than it needed to be, detracting from the organic sound that normally makes them feel like such a perfect live band, and it was completely distracting. It wasn’t as bad on ‘Migraine’, but it still made the band feel like a parody of themselves – instead of the crowd moving because the band were having so much fun, this definitely felt like it was more work than play as a show. It could be because the tour has been so long, but neither Tyler or drummer Josh Dun was throwing themselves into the show like they normally would, so it does make me wonder if they’re exhausted from being on the road for so long without a break.
However.
Oh, and that is a big however, because the flat, disappointing beginning is still weighing heavily on my mind, and is definitely where my brain is focused.
However… The rest of the show was amazing. I could say flawless, but I won’t, because I was still expecting more, but maybe the new material just doesn’t warrant the effusive stage energy and the constant movement and surprising stage tricks. Maybe the new material is just chilled out and relaxed, and therefore cannot be as impressive (audibly or visually) as the previous albums.
In the biggest shock of the night, it was actually ‘House of Gold’ that turned things around for me. ‘House of Gold’, my least favourite song on ‘Vessel’ and the only song I regularly skipped, which was performed beautifully, naturally, and felt so much more like the band I first fell in love with. It definitely helped that Tyler’s kimono made an appearance, showing that they haven’t come too far from their roots. The ukelele stayed out through ‘We Don’t Believe What’s On TV’ and their cover of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, which were both beautifully performed – ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ got the loudest singing of the entire evening, while ‘We Don’t Believe What’s On TV’ has more energy live than I’d ever imagined that it could have based off of the recording. The “1, 2, 3, yeah yeah yeah” chant was continued by the crowd throughout. It stills sounds distinctly like a rip-off of ‘Riptide’ by Vance Joy but I did enjoy it, especially when Josh casually whipped out his trumpet for a section. Certainly not something I’d been expecting.
‘Lane Boy’ was introduced with the dialogue that is captioned over the music video (“Why do I kneel to these concepts?”) which certainly racked up the tension: it’s one of those songs that starts off understated but builds very quickly and very strongly to a brilliant climax, and that was perfectly performed. I do think the song is a bit too long, with all the extended dubstep-esque outro and the feigned ending, but it works live, in a way that it doesn’t on the album. Listening to something this powerfully crafted is pointless through headphones, because it has so many layers and nuances that you can only pick up on while hearing it performed in a room of this size. It really made me fall in love with the song. When it finished, Tyler joked “the lower the ceiling the better the show!” and considering the other venues the band have been playing over the last six months I wouldn’t be surprised if this ceiling was the lowest they had seen in a while.
I’d been hoping the band were going to include the medley that they’ve been playing on their US and select UK dates (including ‘Addict With A Pen’ and ‘The Pantaloon’, both songs off of their debut album), so when they cut it from their set I was highly disappointed. It didn’t detract from the impact that ‘Doubt’ had on me, though – especially with the split crowd vocal at the end of the song. Echoing “Don’t forget about me” from the left side of the crowd to the right side of the crowd, it worked perfectly – definitely a stand out moment of the show, and the song has been stuck in my head all day as a result.
The rest of the set continued in the same fashion – old songs and new songs alike all impressing me – but my highlight of the entire evening was definitely ‘Goner’. I’ve been in love with ‘Goner’ since the half finished demo of it was posted on Youtube, and while I miss the accordion and the cold sound that came with the conception of it, I adore the new version because it’s just so right. When I heard they were finally finishing it and were extending it, I was shitting myself because I was certain it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but it far succeeded them. And live?
Live, it’s so much more. The slow build to the climactic ending is palpable, and I had goosebumps and spine shivers… You couldn’t beat that moment for me. If I was still feeling even slightly skeptical about the show, ‘Goner’ saved the entire evening for me, and it gave me hope for the Brixton O2 Academy show I’m attending in February. Before playing ‘Trees’ (in which the band did their awesome water drumming on the crowd once more) Tyler said to the crowd “if you’ll have us back we’d love to come back some day”, but I can’t see that happening – with a capacity of 1,000 people, twenty one pilots will not be playing shows of this size for much longer, and I was surprised enough that they returned to the venue after their sold out show upstairs nearly two years ago.
Look, I still can’t say that twenty one pilots are one of my favourite bands again, because I’m not exactly sure how I feel about them. This show has come a long way to helping me accept their development and the fact that they’re still them, underneath the changes and the exposure they’ve gained. Meeting Tyler after the show, I was struck by the fact that he’s still such a kind, lovely and down-to-earth guy: these are just two boys from Ohio who have been insanely successful because they’ve worked so hard to get where they are. Yes, they aren’t exactly a rock band anymore: yes, they’re pretty much in the mainstream. But they deserve this success and I am proud of them.

Setlist:
heavydirtysoul
Stressed Out
Guns For Hands
Migraine
Polarize
House of Gold
We Don’t Believe What’s On TV
Can’t Help Falling In Love With You
The Judge
Lane Boy
Doubt
Holding On To You
Ride
The Run and Go
Tear In My Heart
Car Radio

Goner
Trees