As Twenty One Pilots played Lane Boy Wednesday night, singer Tyler Joseph approached the edge of the stage, crouched down, extended his hand and addressed the Tampa crowd.
“You know how this works, yeah?” he said.
On cue, hundreds of fans across the Amalie Arena floor, some of whom had been waiting days in the rain just to get there, crouched down just like Joseph. After a few beats, he hopped up, took a flying leap off his piano amid cannon blasts of smoke, and the crowd of 12,000 exploded with him.
Yes, Tampa knows how this works, all right. The city has been there for every step of Twenty One Pilots’ rise from oddball Ohio duo to international alt-pop A-listers.
Wednesday’s concert, the first stop on the latest leg of their globe-conquering Bandito Tour, was their third Amalie Arena show in a little over two and a half years. That’s a pretty hot pace for a band that now routinely headlines major festivals; it might be a while before another new artist tries it again.
But that didn’t stop scores of Twenty One Pilots diehards, known as the Clique, from once again camping out and queuing up for primo spots on the GA floor. The earliest arrivers showed up Friday — as in, five-days-ago Friday — and lined the front rows decked in this tour’s signature black and yellow, their hair in some cases dyed to match.
With the fans coming this hard, it was hard for Twenty One Pilots not to do the same. They emerged in smoky darkness, with bandana-masked drummer Joshua Dun hoisting a flare and Joseph, his face blacked out by a balaclava, perched with a bass atop a flaming car, before they revved up the searing Jumpsuit. For Levitate, individual mini-stages thrust Joseph and Dun up and down, with flames spouting around them and confetti sprinkling from above.
And then, near the end of the frenetic Heavydirtysoul — one of several new additions to the Bandito Tour setlist — Dun ripped off his mask, abandoning any pretense of anonymity and facing his rabid fans, whipping his camouflage jacket all around him.
It’s a good, fierce act. But, see, Twenty One Pilots and their fans know each other at this point — like, really, really know each other — and so all parties involved can see the tenderness beneath all that post-apocalyptic posturing.
Midway through the set, Joseph slinked off the main stage and over the barrier to snake through the crowd to a B-stage in the back. Rather than crush him, awestruck fans parted respectfully, heeding makeshift barriers as he slowly made his way across the giddy floor.
“There was so many people in the business of crowd control and security telling us that wasn’t going to work,” Joseph said. “And you guys were so respectful of us.”
Yes, put aside the balaclavas and flaming automobiles, and Joseph and Dun are still just a couple of sweet, clean-shaven midwestern boys. The bouncy House of Gold, a song Joseph wrote for his mother (aww!), bounced across his ukulele strings like a sweet McCartney ballad. The mostly sweet and gentle piano ballad Smithereens, a song he wrote for his wife (aww!), swayed like Sir Elton.
The chest-thumping alterna-rap anthem Holding On to You still elicited middle-school chills from long-timers. Those same fans nearly lost it over a B-stage medley of Migrane and Tear In My Heart. And the guys got a little wholesome help from openers MisterWives, whose trumpeter Jesse Blum delivered a solo Somewhere Over the Rainbow and some backup on Fall Away before the rest of his band came out to sing and dance on the leisurely, reggae-ish Cut My Lip.
Twenty One Pilots are unquestionably bigger than they were the first few times they came to Tampa Bay, playing early festival sets or venues like the State Theatre and Ritz Ybor. They know this, and aren’t afraid to have fun with it. After an explosion of sparks at the end of Lane Boy, Joseph said: “You like those fireworks? Cost us, like, five grand. That’s for you!”
But then, all of it was for the fans. Old tricks like Dun doing a backflip from the piano and drumming from a platform held aloft by fans; and both guys drumming in the crowd during closer Trees. New tricks like Joseph convincing security officials to dance on My Blood, or introducing their biggest hit, Stressed Out, with a snippet of P. Diddy’s Bad Boy For Life.
When Joseph ran off the stage, a smile on his face, after delivering the final lines of Car Radio from atop a scaffold near the soundboard, the crowd just kept singing without him. And then Joseph and Dun came back out for one more benediction and thank-you.
“Josh and I get the question a lot: Do you guys still get nervous for shows?” Joseph said. “For us to start this tour right here in Tampa, it is such a good feeling. Thank you so much. So do I get nervous? Yes. At some point during this show, it went away, and I realized I was just celebrating being alive with a lot of people just like me.”
Twenty One Pilots fans sure get him, all right. After all this time in Tampa, both sides know exactly how it all works.