Live Review: Twenty Øne Piløts – Takeover Tour London

It’s not often that a band settles down in a city for more than a show or two during their tour. Unsurprisingly, Twenty One Pilots setting up camp in the UK’s capital for a total of four gigs, spread across multiple venues over the whole city, starting with a 200-capacity room up to the stellar Wembley Arena, was a cause for celebration for their dedicated fans and casual listeners alike. After years of planning and waiting for Covid restrictions to trickle by, the Ohio-based duo was finally ready to take over London – and sooner than later, the town was painted in light blue, pink and yellow.

So there I was, standing outside Brixton Academy at half past 1am at night, pink tape wrapped around my legs as a means of extravagant decoration, a plate of blueberries in my hand and excited fans surrounding me. What was I doing there, you ask? Like many others, at that point of the night, I did not really know any more for certainty, but it would later turn out that I was actually waiting to meet my favourite band and take a carefully planned group picture with them, one that would soon become my phone’s new lock screen and a memory to be cherished forever. It was just one of many crazy events that happened while Twenty One Pilots touched down in London after a year of counting down from the official sale in 2021 – one that saw all concerts sell out within minutes, first and foremost the smaller shows set for Camden’s Assembly and Shepherd’s Bush Empire. 

For the American duo, the trip to the UK was just one of many stops on their European tour stacked with multiple festival outings, and a final end to their Takeover Tour to celebrate the release of their latest enthralling record ‘Scaled And Icy’. Working their way up from the smallest venue to the biggest one, it felt like a trip down memory lane, with Camden Assembly serving as the site of their first-ever London show all the way back in 2013. It was a special walk down the band’s history, one that would turn out to become part of the best week of the lives of many fans, including my own. But let me explain why. 

It’s certainly rare nowadays that the band from Columbus, Ohio, takes their usually very impressive and grand show production back to a very, very small room that allows just enough space for singer Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun to walk a couple of steps around their instruments and maybe even do the one or other jump without the risk of hitting their heads on the ceiling. Thus, it’s to no surprise that even days before the official night of the gig, fans started lining up the streets in Camden, busily writing numbers on their wrists and securing their spots right at the front for a venue of the size of a common living room. One might refer to those fans as the universe’s favourites, and even if so, there wouldn’t be any arguments thrown against it. To my own greatest sadness, I wasn’t one of those very lucky few, so I find myself standing outside the venue on the very same Tuesday evening, trying to listen to the show through the walls and the occasional opening of the pub’s doors. I’m not the only fan that has gathered around the tiny location in hopes of either miraculously making it into the show last minute, or just getting a few audial glimpses of songs that have long been taken off the band’s usual setlist. And while people would commonly think of this as a rather strange way of spending one’s free evening, it is then that Twenty One Pilots and their fandom, the clique, truly show their greatness. There are fans around me making friends with others, exchanging social media handles and getting excited about hearing vocalist Joseph’s screams to the oldies, but goldies ‘Ode To Sleep’, ‘Semi-Automatic’ and ‘Goner’. Crew members of the group line up outside the venue, striking up conversations with the waiting fans, with Dun’s drum technician Father John Meyers even letting them listen to what’s going on inside through his own in-ears and surprising a very lucky few with Dun’s drumsticks a short while later (a prized possession for every member of the clique, one that has now proudly been framed by myself). At some point, Joseph’s wife Jenna Black walks past and gleefully greets the small crowd outside, while their photographer Ashley Osborn stumbles down the stairs to catch some fresh air (a clear indicator of the state of the room inside).

It all feels very homely and intimate, standing there, knowing exactly that everyone around me has come to this place for the very same reason, fuelled by the love for the very same band. While the ceiling of the Camden Assembly shakes ferociously due to the crowd jumping inside, I’m having just as much fun under the night’s sky, taking everything in and feeling like I’m part of a community that is so much more than just a fandom. And at the end, while watching the crew pack everything away, joking with them about their gear and even getting to sign one of the wardrobe’s transport boxes, Tyler and Josh make their way past the now highly increased number of people waiting for them outside after the show, happily waving at everyone and marking the end of their first night of four in London.

The next day, I find myself sitting on yet again another piece of concrete, but this time it’s eleven o’clock in the morning and I’m outside the famous Shepherd’s Bush Empire. After a fan hurriedly runs after me to write a number on my hand, I realise that even despite the early hours, I’m anything but that, with a clear “201” written in black sharpie glaring at me from my wrist. There are pillows and newly bought duvets lying on the sides of the venue, with excited fans already lined up perfectly in their exact order. And it all works, because, besides their undying devotion, this is what the clique is best known for – the number system for camping. Some fans have been sleeping outside the venue for days, to a point where even the venue’s staff gladly accept the order and they themselves check for anyone sneaking in or breaking the system. For outsiders, it all may look very strange, but for the Twenty One Pilots fandom, this is just the daily bread.

The hours go by quickly, even despite the (surprisingly) gleaming midday sun tearing at everyone’s nerves and water supplies. And then it’s finally time for the doors to be opened and within seconds you can feel the ecstasy rise. It took seven years for the American duo to finally return to the elegant intimacy of Shepherd’s Bush Empire and even while they might have since then outgrown the venue in terms of their popularity and their show’s production, Tyler and Josh manage to captivate the crowd and take up the small room with the simplest of ease. Jumping into the set with the bubbly ‘Good Day’ before quickly following with the haunting ‘No Chances’, the duo pushes the energy levels very close to breaking point, with the audience shouting even the smallest of syllables right back at them. While some things might have changed since 2015, like the very new and welcome addition of a band and the inclusion of less emo-ish songs from their latest record, at the basis of it all, Twenty One Pilots are still the great performers everyone fell in love with in the first place – Tyler still plays on the same piano he once started his career off and never ceases to use it as a jumpstart point, Josh still likes to be held up by the crowd on a small drum island while he, as frontman Tyler likes to say, “puts the kids to bed” (meaning the drums), and ‘Trees’ is still the emotional closer of the show as it always has been, leaving many fans teary-eyed. And while I, like so many others, hug my friends and claw at the remaining specs of blue, yellow and pink confetti on the floor, I’m once more reminded why Twenty One Pilots might just be the biggest most-unknown band on the planet. And they’ve got the whole of London right at their feet, for very good reasons.

Brixton Academy comes and goes in a whirlwind of chaotic queues, racing colours, happy tears and exuberant screams. It’s a special venue for the Columbus-based group, standing proud as the place where they first ever performed new material from their fifth studio album ‘Trench’. And it’s hard not to get a sense of magic in the air that night, with singer Tyler calling the show something “out of his dreams” and him later taking a seat on his trusty piano while presenting an award to the crowd won earlier that day – the Kerrang award for ‘Best Live Act’. Exhilarated chants fill up even the smallest of creaks in the venue, with Tyler thanking the fanbase once more and stating that they should have all been there at the award’s show because, at the end of the day, they are the biggest and most important part of their concerts. It’s an intimate moment between the fans and the band, one that further underlines the unique relationship the duo has always had with the clique, one that is unlike any other. And even later, while one of the venue’s staff, lovingly referred to as Mr O, is invited on stage after the band had heard that he had been entertaining the patient campers waiting in line all day, the night becomes even more special. Ever played “head, shoulders, knees & toes” with your favourite band? No? Well, I have, and it’s just as fun and weird as you’d expect it to be.

Standing there, mushed in-between sweaty bodies, I start to take it all in. The movements of the crowd, the small jokes between Tyler and Josh and their band, the cautious looks of the band’s crew and security looking over the masses, always making sure that everyone stays safe in the boiling venue. It’s a night of small details, at least the ones that I take note of while I scream out the lyrics to tracks like fan-favourite ‘Holding On To You’, the energetic ‘Jumpsuit’, the surprising ‘Migraine’ and the evergreen ‘Car Radio’. I must have heard all of these songs hundreds of times already, and still, they bring my heart almost to a burst. And when ‘Trees’ ends and I’m yet again engulfed by a sea of confetti while the emotions wash over me, I’m grateful to be in this space, sharing such a special experience with my favourite band. It feels like home to me, and it very much is.

And this is where we come to the opener of this story because unlike so many other people, I refuse to let concerts end, even after the band has left the stage and the venue’s staff has practically shoved me outside. So there I am, standing outside Brixton Academy in the middle of the night with twenty-or-so other fans, waiting for two American guys to come out and basically wave at us. At some point, one of the security guards brings out a bunch of food, and while munching on raw carrots and a handful of blueberries was definitely not part of my plan for the night, as a Twenty One Pilots fan, you learn to take what you get and laugh about any situation, no matter how crazy it is. And in the end, it’s all worth it, as my phone’s lock screen can now prove to the world. 

Saturday yet again paints the town in vibrant colours (pun very much intended), not only because it is the last stop on the Takeover Tour, but also because it’s the biggest show yet, with Twenty One Pilots taking over the newly named OVO Wembley Arena. It’s as busy inside as it is outside, with global star Ed Sheeran playing just a few meters away at the famous Wembley Stadium next door. And while fandoms mix and mingle, you can sense everyone gathering their last bits of energy for this very last time. 

To the casual listener, the concert feels like any of the others before (taking away the difference in the venues’ various capacities), but for someone who has been lucky enough to follow the band for the whole tour, it’s easy to understand that Twenty One Pilots are made for arenas. The visuals are bigger, the lights shine brighter, and Tyler makes use of the increased space to rush into the roaring crowd not only once but twice during the energetic performance of their hit ‘Ride’, not forgetting his climbing debut of the week during ‘Car Radio’, in which the singer is known to clamber up various towers and buildings (he only recently took on the 23 meters high top of the main stage’s scaffolding at Rock Werchter Festival in Belgium). Setlist-wise, there aren’t many changes, besides a surprising mashup of old favourites during the show’s campfire section, throughout which the duo and their backup band gather around a literal campfire to acoustically perform some of their earlier hits and a few covers (special nod to trumpet and accordion player Dr Blum who manages to be the star of this with absolute ease). It’s a perfect night for the band and the fans alike, with big smiles plastered on everyone’s faces and jokes being thrown into any silence that appears. And when the crowd erupts one last time and Tyler asks us to have them back soon, it marks the end of a perfect show in a perfect week.

Of course, I yet again find myself sitting outside the venue late at night after the concert, this time really not waiting for anything in particular. The pavement isn’t comfortable and the temperature could be higher, but I’m surrounded by the same people I’ve been with all week, all of who I’ve met and now made friends with thanks to the talented duo from Ohio. And as we sit there, joking with the crew, reminiscing about the show that just ended mere hours ago, it becomes very clear to us that this is what the week and what Twenty One Pilots are all about – connecting people and sharing your passion and love for something with the world around you. I’m not the only person happily referring to the space the group has created as my home, and that is for a very good reason. It’s simply because that’s what it feels like for so many. It’s a safe place where you can just be yourself and no matter if you follow Tyler and Josh around the globe, camp outside venues, or just turn up right before the curtain falls and jump around at the back, you’re part of the community this band has shaped. And I know for a fact, that no matter how long it will take them to come back to London, the city will always be waiting for them. And so will we.

Written by Laura Weingrill //-II photography by Ashley Osborn

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