Twenty One Pilots were a weird little band until they released ‘Blurryface’. Three years later and they’re now one of the biggest bands around but they’re still intent on doing things their own weird way. The buildup to ‘Trench’ has seen the duo disappear completely, before coming back with cryptic online exchanges with no beginning, end or reward alongside four singles, each taking on their own colour and shape. All bets concerning TøP’s fifth album are well and truly off.
A one-off show at London’s Brixton Academy, AKA ‘A Complete Diversion’, isn’t here to give anything away. Instead, it’s a powerful reminder about why you should be excited about the proper return of Josh and Tyler.
It starts with a masked figure walking onstage holding a flaming torch, peering into the crowd before setting up behind the drum kit. Then a parked car is engulfed in flames before another figure emerges and the fuzzy fuse of ‘Jumpsuit’ is lit. The whole of Brixton starts moving. On record, their comeback track fizzes with a destructive defiance and live, that power is taken to breaking point. The words aren’t just sung back, they’re bellowed. There’s belief in every line, from the poignant reach of “if you need anyone, I’ll be right there” to the scratched rage of “I can't believe how much I hate, pressures of a new place roll my way”. There’s no rest for anyone though, as the band slide straight into the hurried rap of ‘Levitate’ as the room tries (and succeeds) to keep up before a deliberate, haunting version of ‘Heathens’ sees the stage bathed in purple and green light and Tyler staggering about the stage, drunk in love and community.
Every track played tonight feels like a moment. Time apart might have something to do with the heightened excitement but Twenty One Pilots aren’t relying on distance to make those hearts beat faster. The stage is an ever-shifting flurry of flame and flickering light, the band are relentless in their command on and off the stage and the songs never repeat the same trick twice. Every step forward is unexpected, from the joyous wink of ‘Nico And The Niners’ to the looming heartburst of ‘My Blood’, Twenty One Pilots refuse to stay in their lane.
‘Car Radio’ and ‘Trees’ end the night, not with a bang or a whimper but with a chorus of voices united as one. Twenty One Pilots have been playing these songs since they were headlining the likes of Underworld and Heaven, and while the stages have gotten (much, much ) bigger, their refusal to play by anyone else’s rules has remained the only static part of their hypercharged journey. And if tonight is anything to go by, they’ve got a lot more adventuring on the horizon.