Twenty One Pilots: The Bandito Tour @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Donned in signature yellow and khaki, Twenty One Pilots fans swarmed in from Richmond to see their band in the flesh. The Bandito Tour was in honour of the October release of Trench; the Columbus, Ohio duo’s follow on from breakthrough album Blurryface (2015) which saw them become a household name. It seemed like suddenly everyone knew who ‘Tyler and Josh’ were after years of working their local venues.

Catching the band last March at this same venue, as well as in London at their Alexandra Palace show, and having watched seventy gazillion live videos, I wondered if the Trench era of Twenty One Pilots would still pack the same creative and quirky punch.

Before I could find out though, we were to watch openers Drapht. Though the Perth based project has hundreds of thousands of monthly Spotify listeners and has been around for well over a decade, they were new to me. Seemingly also to many others, who let their empty seat (or empty standing space) speak for where their interest lay.

Immediate impressions were made magical by the prowess of the lighting; beaming shapes onto the roof of the arena or outward toward us all in perfect synchronisation. Smooth and chilled, the lighting’s movements matched the sounds we were hearing, with also a mild husky vocal urgency overlaid for a sense of edginess. Hand-bouncing, backing horns and flutes, and a touch of vaudevillian were all featured in the set and there were definitely a lot of people enjoying the experience at the front of the stage. Though it was mostly upbeat, the set unfortunately didn’t grab my curiosity to explore the band and their music.

In pre-Twenty One Pilots mode and with the stage curtain down, ‘make some noise’ is what we did, at any sign of movement or change in sound sparking a rush of hype. With barely any empty seats and the floor area feeling far less spacious, awaiting fans soaked up ethereal mood music – staring at that curtain to will our band to appear, flashing yellow hued phone lights across the stadium and chanting ‘T-O-P!’.

With a militaristic arrival, drummer Josh Dun appeared with a flaming torch, staring out into the crowd, silently staring and looking for us – The Banditos.

With a familiar fiery car alight on stage, we were clearly in Trench territory with opening tracks “Jumpsuit” and “Levitate” (instead of good old “Heavydirtysoul”). Tyler soon joined in on the action, though seemingly in a more limited/contained way of movement than I’d seen him before. I’m already emotional putty in their hands with the yellow lights and confetti raining down at the “if you need anyone” bridge of “Jumpsuit”.

It’s “Fairly Local” magic for a moment, before a short movie that blends into real life (Hello, Red Beanie!) leads us back to Blurryface days and it feels like we suddenly have a fluid and playful Tyler in front of us again. Again I’m blown away by the impressive work with the lighting and video, where clearly live footage of the duo in action is overlaid with effects that are so well done that we could easily be watching a music video on the screens. Though their imagery was top notch last time I’d seen them, this has stepped up significantly.

Progressively more and more intimate, we are reduced to just Tyler and a ukulele and drawn into playful engagement with our role in “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV”. For those not familiar, Tyler has a manner in which he’s bossy direct as anything yet also very easy to give in to. It’s clear Tyler knows how he wants it to go and we all have our parts and we are to play them, and that’s just how it is. There’s no room for questioning here.

Drawn into Trench land, with fittingly moody stage videos with yellow accents, it seems that Twenty One Pilots have managed to make quite a dense (almost daunting) story feel light. Tyler dancing in a quirky heel first stalking manner, The Handshake with Josh, and Josh poking his tongue out at a camera all come off as a flourish of outward entertainment to something that’s actually quite complex under the metaphorical hood. It’s accessible on whatever level we want to connect with it at which is beautifully inclusive.

Any judgement I might have had on ‘we’re all just being played by big lights and flashy production’ fades when it’s just plain lighting and a lot of love. For a contrast of extremes, this seems like an important one. This band remember where they came from, even though they are hitting the biggest stages. At their core Twenty One Pilots are passionate musicians, and that still exists when the laser lights and sharp imagery aren’t blaring across the stage. The moments of just Tyler, the piano, and a single light were just as powerful as the ones with effects in full swing.

Taking contemplative connection into humour, Tyler shares the important observation that piano notes behind talking makes it sound important; demonstrating this by pausing and saying that it’s awkward without it. Ripping from humour into impactful emotion, Tyler ‘drives’ us into “Taxi Cab” (“our first song with rap in it”) and then “Neon Gravestones”. It’s another shade of the band, the spoken anguish giving more emotional vulnerability than I’d heard in other Trench songs. And the lighting just seems to tug harder at those heartstrings.

Though I’m more of a Blurryface girl than Trench, the contrast of ‘moving slow’ by sitting stationary on the piano through to leaping and extracting a crowd jump coupled with CO2 bursts is easily hype inducing having everyone feel this burst of energy.

I was glad to see that Vessel still got a nod, with one of my favourites “Holding On To You” offering up a special crowd connective moment and a stunning (musically and emotionally) “entertain my faith” blow out. Though Josh can’t give much away from behind the drums, he whales on them and is the reliable rock throughout.

It’s all so well orchestrated and practiced, there’s a ritualistic predictability about it and our only task is to surrender to it. Fully pulling all of us present into the experience now, we all attend the metaphorical ‘Tyler Joseph School Of Singing and Dancing’ and join in on “My Blood”. As frontman he’s the master of crowd participation, and seems like he’d happily wear us down to get his way. “Morph” is a natural next song to this, creating a stunning dance-vibing experience, with precision lighting to match its lyrics, and a big finish with Josh drumming while being held up by the crowd.

Having climbed this peak of celebration and grooving, we hit a unifying finality, first with “Leave The City”, and then the signature “Trees”; with keyboard atop the car, and the collective drumming of the two band members while held up in the crowd. Beautiful and moving, we were rained upon by Trench themed confetti, with fans happily stuffing it in pockets and elsewhere – a physical memory of the time that Tyler and Josh came to town.

[Photos by Liam Davidson]
Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it. [Loved the read? Shout Kel a latte.]

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