Twenty One Pilots at Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Since the mid-2000s, pop music has taken on what can only be described as a cynical edge. The spirit of Paramore and Fall Out Boy lives on in the thousands of beanie-wearing Emo kids who pack the venue, and Twenty One Pilots take the stage to brooding red and white lighting, a mic that hangs down from a crane, and the aggressively fast-talking opening track Heavydirtysoul, which nevertheless boasts a surprisingly melodic chorus. The band go through the motions with Stressed Out and Guns for Hands, making a vague attempt at satire in the vein of those earlier bands, but without really saying anything that’s new or progressive. Like drinking Red Bull or staying up past ten on a school night, Twenty One Pilots cultivate an appealing image of rebellious maturity, but without daring to do anything that would really upset the many parents in the audience. It’s clear that – wait, is that guy playing a trombone? Well, this changes everything.
Yes, there’s a surprisingly warm centre to this dark and belligerent set, and it shines through eloquently in songs such as The Judge, Migraine and House of Gold, where the band forego more synthy sounds in favour of acoustic piano and guitar, soulful vocals and charmingly catchy choruses, of which The Feeling or Efecto Pasillo would be proud. It’s such a sudden change of direction, and entirely incongruous with the first few songs; it’s impossible not to reappraise this duo for the better, even while admiring the way they’ve cultivated their “thugs with hearts of gold” image to beguile cynical grown-ups. Twenty One Pilots may not be the most original of bands, but they certainly know what they’re doing.
That former, darker sound still returns on songs like Lane Boy and Polarise, but this time balanced out by the likes of Semi-Automatic and even a couple of verses of Can’t Help Falling In Love, which really bring a sense of – say it quietly – fun. When all’s said and done, though grown-ups and hipsters may be able to point to better-executed examples of every sound in their repertoire, it’s clear that this band has all bases covered competently, and kids going through that difficult time could do a lot worse than listening to Twenty One Pilots.
Photos: Chloe Darnaud
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Watch the video for Stressed Out here: