When Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun take off their masks (and put different ones on, and then take those off), or really, as soon as the music starts, it becomes blindingly apparent that twenty | one | pilots is a pop duo sensation approaching the sensibilities of Foster The People mixed with the rap aesthetic of Macklemore. Pair that with one of the best visual performances you’ve ever seen in a mid-sized venue like the Neptune, and it’s easy to see why this band is selling out shows well in advance, all across America.
Openers Vinyl Theatre and Misterwives were decent, yet rather unremarkable, the former a manly quartet ripping off Sir Sly. Misterwives was slightly more interesting; there was potential with the presence of a saxophone and trumpet and a pretty frontwoman (Mandy Lee) with a pretty voice, but it all came off a little bit too reminiscent of American Idol.
Pilots’ Joseph has a voice that can sound timid and scrawny, like that of Gordon Gano, but as the music crescendos his voice grows stronger, bolder, even an impassioned scream at times. He employs a weird selection of instruments to great effect, from ukulele to piano and even a keytar. All of these things together provide a broken, almost goofy counterpart to the impressive, forceful drumming of Dun, who played so hard that at one point he broke a drum head. This led to Joseph singing Beyoncé, Ludacris, and other snatches of pop smashes on his ukulele as the drum was fixed . . . which was quite a treat for the crowd. One fan was brought up on stage to sing about six words of “Call Me Maybe.” Cute.
The performance was a banquet for the senses. Bright lights, pulsing lights, no lights. The duo changed outfits multiple times, going from plain ski masks to full-zip masked skeleton hoodies to a spacy alien mask for Dun. Joseph’s wardrobe changes reflected multiple personas; whilst playing a series of ukulele-based songs he wore a kimono-esque open shirt, and later, during a harder song, he sported a baggy black tank top with wide armholes and a black beanie on his head. The show was also very physical; there were flips off of the upright piano and much jumping. But the high points came when twenty | one | pilots broke the fourth wall. A mini drum set screwed to a platform was brought out into and supported by the crowd, and Dun hopped aboard and attacked the tiny kit fiercely. During the encore, Joseph ran up to the balcony and sang be-masked to the crowd below. The night ended with blasts of smoke and confetti as both Joseph and Dun stood on the crowd and played drums together. The music was poppy . . . the performance, unforgettable.