Review: Twenty One Pilots @ O2 Ritz, Manchester

It’s 8:55am and Whitworth Street is already scattered with teenagers, some of whom are sat on the floor, huddled under sleeping bags, trying to protect themselves from the November air.

I can’t help wondering why they aren’t in school.

Opposite the 20 or so teens with their backs against The Ritz, is a large bus and trailer, neither of which is showing any signs of life.

This group of early birds aren’t staging an organised protest in reaction to the venue closures across Manchester – they’re waiting for Twenty One Pilots to make a coffee run.

Fast forward to 7:10pm and I’ve joined the queue for tonight’s sold out show. This time, it extends from The Ritz, wrapping itself around the corner of the street and ending a quarter of the way down Oxford Street.

It’s a full 30 minutes until I make it inside, just as Jeremy Loops is warming up the crowd with his harmonica.

Loops (as the name might suggest) uses a loop pedal to create multi-layered tracks, utilising the aforementioned harmonica, his impressive beat-boxing skills and at one point, a children’s toy.

Described as a ‘modern folk musician’ and opening for an act that attracted pre-9am attendees clad in the headliner’s merch, the Cape Town artist had his work cut out for him.

Fortunately, as he sings Welcome To The Show it seems like he’s up to the task.

Whether on his own with just his acoustic guitar and loop pedal for company, or joined by his three other band members, Loops puts in a shift on stage.

His lyrics are infectiously optimistic (‘It took me 26 years to feel this something/And I’ll be damned if I let it slip away’), his music made all the more catchy with the inclusion of a saxophonist by his side.

The crowd, largely, don’t know him.

Occasionally it feels like there’s a struggle to fully engage them in the music.

But Loops and Motheo Moleko (who provides the rapping segments on Down South, amongst others) are determined for everyone to have a good time.

Three, maybe four times, during the set Moleko repeated the word ‘bounce’, demanding energy from the spectators.

The effort is valiant and as a fan of Loops, the show he puts on does not disappoint; but the crowd have evidently been saving their best responses for Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun.

The differences between Loops and Twenty One Pilots are many.

Most notably, however, is that whereas Loops had to win over the new crowd, Twenty One Pilots simply had to be.

Their set is raucously good fun. It’s fast paced. Songs feel short, three minutes at most, and each is as energetic as the last.

There is no request that the crowd ‘bounce’ – they just do it, making the whole room move in the process.

The boys don’t talk much with the crowd, instead they throw themselves amongst them.

Joseph climbs up into the gallery to sing and at one point Dun plays from a drum kit that appears to be balanced on top of the audience.

It’s easy to be sceptical about a band like Twenty One Pilots. At times their lyrics feel a little contrived (We don’t believe what’s on TV/Because it’s what we want to see).

Their fans hold ‘you saved my life’ signs, and when they ask every person in the room to jump on the shoulders of the person next to them, myself and the crowd management team are evidently concerned.

When a drunk man, who seems to be in his early thirties, falls down with his piggyback partner, I feel like my anxieties were justified.

Despite their flaws, the set was tight and it’s impossible to criticise a band that evoke such animation from their fans.

It’s refreshing to see a band that is as bold as Twenty One Pilots is when it comes to genre.

They move from dub to the ukulele to pure pop, and although not every foray is successful, it doesn’t really matter.

I get the impression that the evening was everything that those early morning curb-dwellers had hoped it would be (even if I do want to lambast them for skipping school).

As we filed out just after 10:30pm, sweaty and glad for the cold night, I understood the hype.

Image courtesy of Athena lluz, with thanks.

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