In place of the jersey-wearing crowd that normally fills the Jerome Schottenstein Center during basketball season, black-clad fans sporting carefully applied skeletal face paint energetically offered a deafening “welcome home” to Columbus-based alternative pop band Twenty One Pilots on Friday night.
The sold out venue was packed to the nosebleed seats, and the arena was transformed into a rainbow of colorful ski masks obscuring the faces of fans — many of whom practiced the tongue-twisting lyrics of the band’s most popular songs before the opening acts even began to set up the stage.
Up first was Finish Ticket, a group made up of two sets of siblings — twin brothers Brendan (lead vocals) and Michael (bass) Hoye, as well as Gabe (drums) and Nick (keyboard) Stein — and Alex DiDonato (guitar) hailing from San Francisco.
Finish Ticket captured the restless audience’s attention with its exuberant, alternative rock sound, which reverberated through the halls as the general admission ticket line slowly snaked through security.
Playing several songs from its newest EP, “Night Becomes Day,” which was released earlier in September, Finish Ticket served its role as an opener well, and succeeded in pumping up the crowd for the acts that followed.
The familial theme of the evening continued when Echosmith, another California-based group known for its radio hits, “Cool Kids” and “Bright,” took the stage.
Lead vocalist Sydney Sierota introduced the band, which includes her brothers Graham (drums), Jamie (guitar) and Noah (bass) Sierota. In between songs, Sydney shared some sisterly compassion by asking for the audience to applaud for Noah, who, despite having sustained a lung injury from the previous day’s zipline adventure, still performed on stage with the rest of the band.
After a brief period of time during which the stage was set with a bright red banner accented with a tribal pattern, a swinging microphone suspended by a pulley system and Josh Dun’s drum kit, the lights dimmed and Twenty One Pilots exploded onto the stage, accompanied by eardrum-ringing screams from the crowd.
Vocalist, pianist and songwriter Tyler Joseph strided onto stage with a skeleton mask covering most of his face, his body partially obscured by the heavy smoke and harsh lighting that further contributed to the eerie, almost macabre ambiance onstage. He was soon joined by Dun, whose face was also hidden by a mask. Without pause, the first notes of the song “Heavydirtysoul” kicked off an evening of endless energy and excitement.
Twenty One Pilots has come a long way since its founding in 2009. Its four albums each have a distinct sound, yet despite the evolution of the band, Joseph’s thought-provoking songwriting ensures a consistency in which fans take comfort. As the band grows more popular, its stage presence has become more dramatic, with the addition of intense laser displays and light boards, but the connection Joseph and Dun have with their fans — to the point where they will play and sing on thin wooden boards entirely supported by audience members in the pit — has not wavered. In fact, one could argue that it has been bolstered by the band’s success.
The duo released their first chart-topping album, “Blurryface,” in May — and later that same month celebrated when it achieved the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart.
Most of the songs Joseph and Dun played on Friday were taken from this most recent album, and the fans responded with vigor to the album’s leading tracks, including “Stressed Out,” “Lane Boy” and “Tear in My Heart.”
However, the setlist also paid homage to fans who have followed the band since its inception, as seen by the decision to perform select songs off of the band’s third album, “Vessel,” and its 2009 self-titled debut album in a medley that encouraged the crowd to belt out the lyrics.
The night was full of surprises — most notably the guest appearance from Brutus Buckeye, who was brought onstage by Joseph in celebration of the Ohio State mascot’s 50th birthday — but succeeded in celebrating traditions well known to Twenty One Pilots fans.
Those in the pit eagerly jumped on each other’s shoulders when prompted to do so by Joseph during one of the band’s more upbeat concert staples, “The Run and Go,” and held up signs that read “thank you” when the duo returned to the stage to end the concert’s encore with their signature final song, “Trees.”
Before ending the evening, Joseph took a moment to survey the audience and recount the last time he had set foot in the Schott — for a basketball tournament that his team ended up losing. With a chuckle, he thanked the audience for giving him a chance at redemption by welcoming him back to the arena with affectionate enthusiasm.
And when it came time to say goodbye, Joseph stared out into the darkened crowd and shook his head in disbelief, clasped hands with Dun, and smiled at the faces of his hometown as red and white confetti rained down from the rafters.