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Twenty One Pilots delivers music spectacle to devoted fans at Canalside

Once upon a rock-and-roll time, fans had to camp out in line to nab tickets to a hit show.

Technology and ticket-buying bots changed that, but Twenty One Pilots’ Tuesday night visit to Buffalo was a mile-long reminder that lines are still a part of the music scene.  

Not for tickets, in this case. Twenty One Pilots’ show at Canalside, which also featured openers Mutemath and Chef’Special, sold out long ago. 

Tuesday’s line, which actually began Monday morning with a dad-of-the-millennium named John who camped as a placeholder for his daughters and their friends, was all about getting a prime spot near the stage. 

Canalside, mind you, is a general-admission, standing-only concert site.

By Tuesday night, the line of fans, mostly in their teens to mid-20s, snaked around Canalside, behind First Niagara Center, over the bridge spanning the Buffalo River and around to the neighborhood of RiverWorks. 

People showed up at 5 a.m., 9 a.m., after high school exams. After hourly jobs. After office jobs. They brought card decks and Pringles and sunscreen, and loved you forever if you brought them water. 

It wasn’t a desert-sun day. It wasn’t Siberia, either. But it was long, and they did it all for the opportunity to cram as close as possible to the stage that would be occupied by Twenty One Pilots’ two members, frontman Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun. 

The question, then, is why? What’s up with this 20-something band from Columbus, Ohio? What did they do, what do they sing, to capture the passion of so many millennials?

Visiting with the queued-up fans, a handful of Buffalo News journalists asked that question. The answers were consistent:

Their music doesn’t fit any one genre. 

Their songs are relatable. 

They connect with their fans. 

All good reasons to love a band, but those answers are akin to saying swordfish tastes good (and not like chicken). It might very well be tasty, and it may not be poultry-predictable, but you won’t get it until you try it. 

Which is why the most helpful answer to the question was simply, “You’ll see.”

I did see. 

Joseph and Dun have created a musical spectacle that draws from several genres but resembles none. When they took the stage to start with “Heavy Dirty Soul,” they were wearing black masks and ties with red suits. Joseph alternated between rapping and soulful singing.

“This is not rap, this is not hip-hop,” Joseph intoned, “just another attempt to make the voices stop.” A moment later he pushed into the chorus: “Can you save my heavy dirty soul?” 

Next up was “Migraine,” with lines like, “Sometimes death seems better than the migraine in my head.”

Uplifting? Not when you read it here – one line of a song, sans music or theatrics. But consider it a window into the sometimes angsty and always honest areas that Twenty One Pilots’ music probes. It’s like teenage poetry: It reads raw, but it’s often written and absorbed as a cathartic exercise. 

So, too, is Twenty One Pilots’ music, though it’s more experience than exercise. And they deliver it with a creativity and energy that belies even the darkest of lyrics. The masks and suits soon gave way to white shirts and exposed faces as Joseph and Dun played though a string of songs instantly recognizable to the crowd: among others, “Polarize,” “Guns for Hands,” “Car Radio” and the ubiquitous hit, “Stressed Out.”

Along the way, Joseph raced across the lawn and climbed atop a tractor-trailer, ascended a ladder to the roof of  the stage, and crowd-surfed in a human-sized hamster ball. 

Twenty One Pilots didn’t just connect with their crowd. They rolled right across them in a way only long-waiting fans can truly understand.

For the rest of us? It’s simply good music.