OAKLAND — One of the most anticipated concerts of the year arrived in the Bay Area Sunday night as Twenty One Pilots‘ Bandito Tour came to Oracle Arena. Fans fought through the late afternoon Oakland Raiders traffic to line up around the parking lot to get up close to see one of the top alt rock bands, which has been riding high following the release of latest album Trench. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun were in top form at the East Bay show.
The Twenty One Pilots show is part rock concert, part pop spectacle, part laser extravaganza and part trickery—combining for an exhilarating assault on the senses. The duo opened with a dramatic on-stage recreation of their “Jumpsuit” music video, complete with a smoking, burned-out car center stage. While unintentional, the imagery was a striking visual metaphor of the the reality existing a few hundred miles north and south of the Bay Area.
The show quickly transitioned to the stellar nonlinear flow of “Levitate,” which featured Joseph delivering his most Kendrick Lamar-esque rhymes over Dun’s tight rhythms. The stage burst into an array of colors with lasers and strobes shooting across the arena for “Fairly Local,” when the first surprise of the night came.
As the lights when down for the bridge, the real Tyler Joseph appeared in the middle of a seated crowd, revealing that the frontman on stage was in fact an imposter all along. How the band pulls off this trick is a mystery, but its effectiveness in immediately pulling in and engaging the crowd was fully felt.
Twenty One Pilots wasted no time delving into some of the biggest hits in their catalog with “Stressed Out” and “Heathens,” meaning anyone attending just to hear the hits was satisfied right away.
Musically, Twenty One Pilots’ set is relatively simple. Joseph plays a variety of accompanying instruments from bass to keys and ukulele. Much of the musical backing coming from pre-recorded tracks. The heart of the band’s sound lies within Dun’s drumming. His beats are complex, but danceable and match the impact of Joseph’s breakneck singing cadence.
Joseph strapped on a ukulele for a trio of songs off 2015’s Blurryface: “We Don’t Believe What’s on TV,” “The Judge” and “Lane Boy.” It’s worth mentioning again that the Bandito Tour’s lighting and visuals are some of the most impressive you’ll ever see in an arena rock show. Each song has it’s entirely own aesthetic, feeling like a completely different experience from one song to the next. Intricate and complex lighting patterns follow each music shift, spraying light all the way up to the highest reaches of the upper deck.
Following the new reggae-influenced jam “Nico & the Niners,” a bridge lowered from the rafters and took Joseph across to a smaller stage at the back of the arena. He sat at a keyboard, with Dun taking the long way through the audience to get to his auxiliary drum set. Joseph quipped that this portion of the set was inspired by their fathers, who asked for a portion of the show when they would be able to sit down.
“For this next song, please have a seat in honor of our dads and their legs,” Joseph joked before playing the opening notes of “Taxi Cab.”
Another curtain lowered around the second stage to project video as well as a lighting effect that tinted the band in multicolors and strobes. After of playing a trio of more intimate new material, Twenty One Pilots returned via the bridge for the phenomenal, bass-thumping “Pet Cheetah,” They then led the crowd to sing along with “Holding On to You.”
The band invited openers AWOLNATION and Max Frost back for a couple of interesting covers; the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” This was a refreshing change of pace. Not only did these songs feature full instrumentation, but the focus was on the songs rather than the lights.
Twenty One Pilots closed out their main set with “Ride” and “My Blood” before returning to play “Leave the City” and “Trees.”
AWOLNATION preceded the headliners with a genre-bending array of arena rock, influenced by electronica and punk. Frontman Aaron Bruno even led the crowd in an unorthodox glow-in-the-dark version of the wave, powered by fans’ cellphones.