Columbus, Ohio’s Twenty One Pilots is the biggest “cult” band in the world. They’ve sold millions of albums worldwide, headlined the biggest music festivals and sold-out huge venues, but they’re not really a household name. And many of those who are aware of them are often dismissive, writing them off as that silly Pop band that raps sometimes and rides Big Wheels in their music videos.
The bad rep among those unfamiliar with Twenty One Pilots is understandable. On paper, they sound awful: a Pop duo with Reggae, EDM, Screamo and Rap flourishes sounds like a Sublime copycat band that went through an Emo phase and discovered dance music via the Chainsmokers.
But there is a depth to Twenty One Pilots quite unlike the majority of multi-Platinum-selling acts. From a songwriting standpoint, singer/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph has the ability to craft songs with a weight and pull more timeless than his contemporaries in the Pop music world. Strip away the Reggae bounce, the rap flow and the Electronic touches that carbon-date the sound somewhat and you’re left with sturdy songs that are built to withstand the test of time.
That’s especially true on Twenty One Pilots’ most recent album, Trench, which features several ambient ear-grabbers, like “Cut My Lip,” “Morph” and “Leave the City,” perhaps a reflection of the influence and production assistance of Mutemath frontperson and keyboardist Paul Meany. That hazy, hypnotic quality works well as a delivery system for another of Joseph’s exceptional talents — using lyrics to tell a multi-faceted story that’s threaded throughout the entire LP.
As with on the breakthrough Blurryface LP, the (fairly complex) storyline functions as a broader metaphor about mental health and self-care, something also heard in the songs removed from the narrative arc, like “Neon Gravestones,” which examines the impact of celebrity suicide. It’s clever and relatable in a way that, once you figure it out, you feel as if you’re a part of a secret club or, if you will, cult. Twenty One Pilots’ ability to intimately speak to listeners in a way that provides both understanding and guidance is the biggest key to their enduring widespread success.
Pushing the undercurrent along is Josh Dun, one of the best contemporary Rock drummers in the game today. Dun also provides constant energy during Twenty One Pilots’ relentlessly entertaining live show, a tastefully overblown Arena Rock spectacle that’s akin to an Emo circus, with compelling visuals, acrobatic antics, fire, explosions, confetti and a David Copperfield-ian magic trick or two. The bombastic live act is in-line with the duo’s fan-friendly nature — concerts cost a shit-ton of money these days and Twenty One Pilots do all they can to make it feel worth every penny for their followers.
Check out the band's latest effort in their re-imagining project in which they've been re-wiring various tracks from Trench:
8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22. $39.50-$79.50. U.S. Bank Arena, 100 Broadway St., Downtown, usbankarena.com.