Fire can signify destruction, but it can also mark a rebirth. On Wednesday night at London’s Brixton Academy, flames gave rise to a new beginning for Twenty One Pilots. Branded as “A Complete Diversion,” the one-off show opened with a blaze. As the lights dimmed, drummer Josh Dun emerged from the darkness, clad in a black face mask and hoodie, holding a fiery torch aloft before climbing behind his kit. With a thump of the kick drum singer Tyler Joseph, also in a black mask, joined him, heralded by the rise of more flames on an actual car at the back of the stage. The vehicle burned, and with no words of welcome, the music began.
The performance aptly opened with “Jumpsuit,” a new song from Twenty One Pilot’s upcoming fifth album Trench, out October 5th. The pulsating song, which shifts between heavy rock tones and acoustic whispers, recounts an apocalyptic tale, a story revealed in the track’s music video, which also features the car in flames. That was the initial mood set by the Ohio duo, and the visually driven conceptual aesthetic played out through “Levitate,” another new one. But this concert wasn’t simply about unveiling new material or in reveling in end-of-days imagery. Instead, the musicians made the night about the fans who have waited so long for their return.
“This is our first show in over a year,” Joseph told the audience midway through the hour-long set. “I gotta get back in show shape! My legs are hurting, but I think I’m good. We haven’t played in London in almost two years now. It feels so good to be back here. We kind of view this city as a second home of ours.” Over the encouraging screams of the crowd, he added, “Thank you for letting us show you a few new songs we’ve never played before.”
Other previously unperformed numbers included “Nico and the Niners,” an early album standout that acts as a narrative accompaniment to “Jumpsuit,” and “My Blood,” a darkly wrought tune that premiered last month. The rest of the evening was spent on fan favorites, many of which came off 2015’s Grammy-winning album Blurryface, another semi-conceptual disc. As the band unleashed “Lane Boy,” a fast-talking rap number, Joseph urged the audience to “get low.” The entire room, which holds nearly 5,000, crouched as two men in white coats and masks ran forward through pillars of white smoke to spray more smoke out over the crowd.
Joseph and Dun involved the fans, many of whom arrived decorated in yellow masking tape to celebrate the color scheme of the new album, as much as possible. During “Ride,” a chilled-out single off Blurryface, Dun climbed on top of a small drum kit held up by the fans, revealing a deep trust that those in the audience wouldn’t send him tumbling to the venue floor. The duo also delivered with the set list: Popular single “Stressed Out” got its due with a fan sing-along and “Holding On to You,” from 2011’s Regional at Best, took on deep emotional heft (it also concluded with Dun back-flipping from the piano).
Whether this is what fans can expect from Twenty One Pilots’ upcoming global trek, the Bandito Tour, which kicks off October 16th in Nashville, is uncertain. The car on fire is likely to be a central visual to the album and its live promotion, and the duo’s tendency to constantly change outfits and don various masks throughout last night’s performance suggests that a more theatrical element will emerge. After the band announced they’d be back to London next March, adding a third date at Wembley’s SSE Arena, Joseph hinted, “When we come back we’re going to show you a lot of things you’ve never seen before.”
This abridged set was just a taste of what might be to come. The singer was clearly pleased to be back in front of a crowd, often grinning as he leapt around the stage and later scaled the venue wall onto the balcony during “Car Radio.” “I have so many pages of things I want to talk to you guys about,” he noted, without mentioning what any of them were. The performance ended with another kind of blaze during “Trees.” The pair of musicians both climbed on small platforms again held up by fans, slamming dual bass drums in unison, as white smoke surged from the stage, the car re-ignited behind. A mass of yellow confetti exploded, obscuring and then revealing the musicians as they smiled and took a bow.
“We Don’t Believe What’s on TV”
“Nico and the Niners”
“Holding on to You”