9/12/15 – Blue Hills Bank Pavilion

“Babies…all of them,” the 20-something girl a few seats away whispered in horror, surveying the crowd. Clutching her beer tight to her chest, she seemed almost fearful of predominantly teen crowd that populated the half-full pavilion. Phones held high, the high schoolers vacillated between bouncing up and down to beachy guitar riffs and frantically trying to record the scene.

Unfortunately for their snapchat friends…there wasn’t a whole lot to see. Overworked fog machines and brightly colored lights obscured the 21 Pilots opener, Finish Ticket. Despite the poor visibility, the California indie-rock crew made a strong impression by pumping out high energy rhythms that brought life to the early evening. A heavy reverb made their sophisticated lyrics almost unintelligible, but Finish Ticket still drew everyone in with catchy choruses. “Scavenger” and “Color” had the crowd on their feet and dancing to the irrepressible energy. They succeeded where many openers fall short by performing with enthusiasm despite unfortunate conditions and an early slot. The excitable crowd hollered their disappointment as Finish Ticket trooped off the stage.

An hour later, the crowd had thickened, growing in age diversity as New Englanders surged in for the main act. The stage crew matched 21 Pilots’ aesthetic with half face masks and and with each reappearance the crowd “WHOOOOO”-ed loudly, seeming to mistake them for the performers themselves. Silently, the crew swiftly prepped the stage and vanished leaving a single drum set and wooden piano on their respective daises.


The smoke machines began once more, this time creating a spooky, red glow, while heavy drums pounded over the roar of the crowd. In a second, the opening chords of “Heavydirtysoul” punched through the air and lead singer Tyler Joseph was spotlighted on a pedestal, surrounded by the scarlet haze. Clad in a full-body skeleton suit, the rapper/singer whipped around the stage, shouting “Can you save my heavy dirty soul?” A frenzy had ignited: lyrics were screamed out from thousands of throats and not a person in the venue was sitting. The song ended as abruptly as it started, giving way to the moodier, introspective “Stressed Out.”


Under dim purple and green lights, Joseph hunched around the stage, obscuring his figure with a  heavy black blanket as he acted out his insecure alter ego “Blurryface.” “I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink/But now I’m insecure and I care what people think/My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.” Meanwhile, drummer Josh Dunn rolled out the syncopated beats Joseph rapped to, all while clad in an alien mask and hood. 

Stripping off their masks, the pair launched into old favorite “Guns for Hands.” High energy but with a serious subject matter, the song had the entire pavilion bouncing and pointing their “guns” toward the sky. Dunn brought a fierce energy in all his songs, moving elegantly from a backbeat for Joseph’s raps to an attention-grabbing performance in “Migraine” and “Polarize” before Joseph pulled out his ukulele.

Skipping their way through “House of Gold,” “We Don’t Believe What’s on TV,” and a cover of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” the pair showed off their breadth of lyrical and musical prowess. While 21 Pilots has had significant radio success in recent years, they have never lost their skill at tackling complex topics like self-harm, anxiety and societal pressure. Full of sunny chords, certain songs feel like a cheerful anthem until you listen to the words, which the crowd belted out with a fierce dedication. Many in the crowd sported red beanies turned into balaclavas that was 21 Pilots’ trademark in their earlier years.

21 Pilots has maintained a fascinating aesthetic revolving around hoods, homemade balaclavas and gas masks. The strange collection seems to represent the demons that plague them (Joseph frequently places his hand over his face during certain songs and there are often dancers in full hazmat suits  that are emblazoned with “Fame” or “Success”). While there were hazmat suit dancers during “Lane Boy,” they didn’t feature any words as they often do; they just lurked behind Joseph and mirrored his dance steps. Perched on top of the piano, Joseph crouched and weaved from side to side, all the while wearing a floral kimono over his tshirt. During the instrumental interlude, he got down on his knees. “Get low!” He shouts, motioning the crowd to the floor. “Stay low they say… Now up!” The pavilion exploded into a raucous free-for-all dance session, while Joseph spun around the stage in a crazed tribal shaman dance.


A drum and piano medley followed, combining “The Pantaloon,” “Semi-Automatic,” “Forest,” “Screen,” ”Ode to Sleep,” and “Addict With a Pen.” The lights faded to a quieter blue and both musicians had a faraway look on their face as they wove through songs from earlier albums. The screens behind them danced with digital Rorschach’s ink blots. Fewer fans knew these older tunes, but everyone stood spellbound as the duo interwove the various nostalgic songs.

They finished off the night with easily singable “Tear In My Heart,” and 21 Pilots classic “Car Radio.” Dunn created a drum solo and let his energy loose. A drumstick sheared off from his sheer force and spun off into the crowd. Joseph tore offstage and whipped around the arena, screams of joy following him. Climbing the pole in the center of the pavilion, he danced jerkily atop his perch and ended the song conducting the crowd; one fist held high and his homemade balaclava hanging from the other.

The thunder began the second the band vanished off stage. Thousands of fans put their hands to the plastic seats in front of them and sent out reverberations that passersby could have mistaken for the rumble of an earthquake.

Ready and waiting, Dunn and Joseph ran back and delivered a triumphant encore, complete with confetti explosions and backflip off the piano by Dunn. “Music for us is how we communicate and share ourselves, and we feel very privileged to share it with you,” Joseph addressed the crowd as colored paper drifted down. “Music means a lot, and the fact that you would come and share it with us is amazing. Thank you.”

The cheers echoed around the pavilion long after they had left the stage.

Songs For The Restless: 21 Pilots & Finish Ticket
  • Active and engaging performers
  • Great openers
  • Wide variety of songs from different albums
  • Venue sound system had some issues
  • Tyler Joseph is a better rapper than a live singer
9Passionate and Powerful

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