TWENTY ONE PILOTS
Qudos Bank Arena, December 16
(a version of this review first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and @smh.com.au)
The standard line in rock is that with a three-piece band there is nowhere to hide as a musician. What then of a two-piece such as Twenty One Pilots, in a room this big? It may be that the answer is when they’re done, there’s nothing left to give.
Tyler Joseph, on bass/keys/vocals and balaclava, and Josh Dun, on drums, backflips and sixpack, threw absolutely everything at this show: multiple styles and genres, bodies constantly in motion, audience participation, pyrotechnics, a (brief) Elvis Presley cover, an (even briefer) drum solo on a platform held up by roadies in the mosh pit, smoke machines up the wazoo, two runs into the audience, multiple costume changes, a ukulele, and 21 songs in about 90 minutes. With the bonus that it was all done before 10pm to relieve the parents waiting outside.
While the heavy influence of Eminem and Dr Dre on this duo is unmissable, with Joseph’s rapping in particular a perfect facsimile of Mr S. Shady, they moved from harnessing some Nine Inch Nails electro-rock power and (mild) aggression, in Jumpsuit, to lurching hip-hop rhythms and voice treated like a kidnapper’s house call, in Fairly Local; from 80s rock with traces of reggae and Queen, in The Judge, to a kind of muscular Coldplay, in Holding On To You.
It was in truth the perfect representation of the musical diet of someone born since the mid ‘90s and raised on Youtube rather than deadly radio or print media. The Good Place’s Jason Mendoza would definitely be a fan.
Given all that variety and focus on outward facing entertainment, it was bizarre then the haphazardly-paced set was regularly punctuated by momentum-busting pauses, usually for a minor costume change, and that the sound, which is heavily dependent on taped/programmed/triggered instrumentation, was so awful so much of the night.
Its murkiness did no favours to Joseph’s lyrics, which are rarely brawny, and bridge the gap between hip hop and emo, and while this wholly committed audience took up the slack with word-perfect repetitions, that did take the edge off a show which in every other way conveyed sweat and effort as the best substitute for actual genius.