twenty one pilots – Brixton O2 Academy, 25/02/16

After I saw twenty one pilots in Oxford back in November, I was very conflicted. The band still had their unflappable energy, but the atmosphere and the sound just weren’t to the standard that I’d been expected, and I left the show feel a little deflated. I already had tickets to this show in Brixton – they announced it as a one-off headline show before expanded it into a larger tour – but I was more than a little worried.

Opener Transviolet did nothing to dissipate my nerves. I’d only heard one of their songs before, closer ‘Girls Your Age’, and I thought they sounded rather similar to Halsey – after missing her in this same venue two days ago, I’d been looking forward to seeing them perform. However, I ended up being quite underwhelmed.
Vocalist Sarah McTaggart has a… unique vocal tone. By this, I mean she kind of sounds like Ellie Goulding, if Ellie Goulding had inhaled a bunch of helium, or was perhaps suffering with the flu. At points her voice was so high that I literally could not understand a word that she was singing – it was a jarring. It might sound harsh, but it’s the best comparison that I can find, and it didn’t sell their set for me.
I’m sure there are people out there who will be absolutely in love with Transviolet, but they’re not a band for me. I definitely wouldn’t have seen them live if it wasn’t for this support slot. There were some people who followed twenty one pilots around the country, going to every show that they performed, and Sarah shouted out to them saying “You’ve been here for five of the seven shows we’ve done, you guys are hardcore!” and, though they would have been attending for twenty one pilots rather than Transviolet, they certainly seemed to be enjoying the set.
Musically they performed well, but a lot of their songs did sound the same, with the exception of the first song, ‘Bloodstream’, which was the heaviest song that they played. The rest of their songs have an almost psychedelic sound, and it’s definitely music you can chill out to – perfect for TV ad music – I just didn’t really enjoy it in a live environment (well, apart from the third song they performed, which I actually really enjoyed – it’s catchy and easy to dance to).
The majority of the songs that they played in their set were unreleased, so I’ve popped a couple of lyrics in the gaps so that I can piece it together as and when the songs get released.

Setlist:
Bloodstream
– (“Want you alone”)
– (“Only love you when you’re someone”)
– (“I knew that I was playing for keeps”)
Night Vision
– (“Staring out the window/Getaway car”)
New Bohemian
Girls Your Age

The setlist was nearly the same as the one twenty one pilots performed when I saw them three months ago, but despite the similarity in the song choices this show was completely different. Going from a tiny venue holding 1,000 to a huge 5,000 capacity room complete with balcony and seating? That’s a very, very impressive upgrade, but it’s not surprising at all after the success of ‘Blurryface’.
Starting off with two of their most recent songs, including runaway success ‘Stressed Out’, I wasn’t surprised at all when the entire crowd burst into action. For the entirety of the “Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit” chant back into the chorus of ‘Heavydirtysoul’, and the “Wake up you need to make money” scream in ‘Stressed Out’, the crowd were singing with no help from the band, and the fact that you could understand every single word was very impressive.
I’d been expecting the reaction to dampen a little when songs from ‘Vessel’ were performed, so I was over the moon when things got a little bit crazier when ‘Guns For Hands’ started. There were definitely people in the room who didn’t know the earlier material, that’s expected when a band catapults into the public awareness in such a rapid way, but I’d thought there would be a lot more people who were only there to hear the more recent songs. Instead it felt a bit like a congregation rather than a group of individuals attending a show, cemented even further when the crowd rapped the first verse of ‘Migraine’ solo – it’s one of those songs that means so much to many people, and to hear them all screaming along to the words was a spine-tingling moment.
I’d assumed that twenty one pilots wouldn’t suit large venues, but I was completely wrong. With the large screen at the back of the stage showing video footage relating to each of the songs (such as the hazmat suited men from ‘Lane Boy’ and the flying birds during ‘Goner’) it actually made their set feel more intimate rather than larger – in a weird twist of events, I felt much closer to the band and the other fans at this show than I did last time. The most effective use of the screen was definitely the video clip played before ‘Ride’, which showed flashing clips of running through the wood with some frantic breathing played over the top – it raised the adrenaline in the room and made it that much more effective when the song kicked in.
It’s still amazing that there are only two men on the stage, because they both cover every inch of the surface: vocalist Tyler Joseph running from the front of the stage back to the piano and then up to a platform with a hanging microphone, and drummer Josh Dun leaving his kit to backflip off of the piano during ‘Holding On To You’ – you can’t get bored during a twenty one pilots set, because they don’t stay still, and there’s always something to watch. Add in the fact that Josh started playing the trumpet during ‘We Don’t Believe What’s On TV’, and Tyler flipped his kimono over the top of his head and performed the entirety of ‘Lane Boy’ as a kimono-clad ghost, and then they invited a fan up on stage to do the ‘Stressed Out’ handshake with Josh – there are so many memorable moments that it would take me hours to mention them all.
I do wonder if I would have felt the same without the inclusion of the medley and the surprise appearance of the outro of ‘The Run and Go’. As this tour is supporting ‘Blurryface’, the majority of songs in the set are from that release, but the earlier songs are still so brilliantly received that it almost makes me want to go back to the days of every set featuring ‘Vessel’ played in full. I was elated at the response to ‘The Pantaloon’ from the self-titled album – the fact that a large amount of the crowd were still singing along to it, despite it being their most under-appreciated release… It just showed that the band have received mainstream success, and they have acquired a much larger fanbase, but the majority of people have listened to every song that the band have put out.
If you haven’t been to a twenty one pilots show, I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. Their songs really are transferable from situation to situation – instead of just working brilliantly in small venues, they actually sound much better in a large environment like this – and I genuinely believe Brixton O2 Academy might be the perfect venue for the bands sound. The crowd singing along didn’t overpower the band but elevated them, and with it still being safe enough for the drumming on the crowd portions of the evening (during which Josh and Tyler are held up by the crowd on platforms) they’re still bringing elements to their show that keep it utterly unique. Tyler asked the crowd “if we can get night number two to blow night number one out of the water”, and later said “this is probably maybe gonna beat night number one”… Well, based on their reaction before they walked off stage – Tyler so speechless he had to stop speaking twice before he could say “We’re twenty one pilots, and so are you” – I think that might have happened. They aren’t going to be playing venues of this size for long, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they announce a headline show at Wembley Arena before 2016 is over. I, for one, will be attending that show.

Setlist:
heavydirtysoul
Stressed Out
Guns For Hands
Migraine
Polarize
House of Gold (intro)
We Don’t Believe What’s On TV
The Judge
Lane Boy
Medley (The Pantaloon/Semi-Automatic/Forest/Screen/Ode To Sleep/Addict With A Pen/Screen)
Doubt
Holding On To You
Ride
Not Today
The Run and Go (outro)
Tear In My Heart
Car Radio

Goner
Trees