Twenty One Pilots: Trench - Album and Concert Review
By Meredith Fuentes and Montserrat Vazquez-Posada
This past summer, Twenty One Pilots drummer Josh Dun broke the duo’s year-long hiatus from music and social media with a ground-breaking tweet: “Morning.” Following the tweet, four singles were released – along with a music video series – showcasing the Columbus duo’s new sound, and on October 5th, the group released their fourth studio album, Trench. Over the course of its 14 tracks, the album takes listeners on a journey through Dema, a fictional city that frontman Tyler Joseph created.
Following the release of their album, Twenty One Pilots performed at Chicago’s United Center on Oct. 17. It was our sixth time attending one of their concerts, and each time we have been impressed by the group’s ability to simultaneously maintain beloved traditions while still surprising their audience. The duo definitely did not disappoint this time around, with a well-balanced setlist that smoothly integrated tracks from Trench as well as classics from older albums.
The duo opened with “Jumpsuit,” the first single off Trench, with Joseph standing on top of a burning car, as both a nod to the opening image of the song’s music video as well as a nod to the closing image of the “Heavydirtysoul” music video - the last video released before the group’s hiatus. This performance choice established continuity between the duo’s previous two albums and set the tone for a night that effortlessly navigated past and present.
The lights then shifted from the fiery red of “Jumpsuit” to a dark blue, and the stages on which Dun and Joseph stood rose up above the crowd as the pair transitioned into “Levitate,” the second song on Trench. The graphics then changed back to the signature black and red of Blurryface, and, after playing three songs off their breakout album, Joseph disappeared offstage and came back wearing a kimono and big white sunglasses. This look is well known to long-time fans and set the tone for the following songs: “We Don’t Believe What’s On Tv,” and “The Judge.” With a ukulele in hand, Joseph gave fans a break from the crazy visuals and flashing lights - a breather before the next half of the show.
“Nico and the Niners” exported the crowd out of the set of ukulele-based tracks, as well as out of the band’s Blurryface era, back into the world of Trench. The album’s yellow theme dominated the big screens while Joseph and Dun changed into bright yellow jackets. “Nico and the Niners” was the second single released off Trench and goes into more detail about escaping the city of Dema. The song stopped as a bridge descended above the crowd, with Joseph walking above a sea of yellow-clad fans. Lights went up on the skybridge as he finished the final verse and chorus, making his way to the B stage in the middle of the General Audience section.
Now on the center stage, soft flashing lights floated overhead while “Neon Gravestones,” one of the more somber songs off Trench, played. In it, Joseph discusses society’s misconception of depression and suicide, specifically in relation to those who hold a spotlight. He criticizes society for paying the most attention to an individual after they’ve committed suicide when he says, “Our culture can treat a loss like it's a win.” Tyler has talked about his mental illness in previous songs, and the title alludes to posthumous fame were he to take his own life.
The band played two more songs from Trench – “Bandito” and “Pet Cheetah” – before making their way back to the main stage. More than halfway through the concert, they finally played a song off Vessel, the first album Joseph and Dun created together. Joseph jumped off the stage and security hoisted him up into the crowd. You can expect to see this at every TOP show; Joseph always stands in the crowd during “Holding On To You,” as he did when we first saw Twenty One Pilots at the Aragon Ballroom during our freshman year of high school. In the last minute of the song, Dun gets off the drums and climbs onto Joseph’s piano; as expected by longterm fans, he does a backflip. Dun has been doing this since the band first started, and the crowd still goes crazy every time.
“My Blood” is one of Trench’s highlights. Joseph refers to his fans as his blood, or family, and ensures that he’ll be there for them no matter what. During the performance, Dun and Joseph sported skeleton hoodies - the kind 11-year-old boys wear as Halloween costumes. The pair first started wearing these on their Vessel tour. Even as the band grows and gains more fame, Joseph tells the OG fans repeatedly, “Stay with me, my blood, you don’t need to run.”
The pair then took off their hoodies and transitioned into “Morph.” During the song, the band brought out another concert tradition: halfway through, an interlude began to play as members of the stage crew placed a small drum island on top of the crowd. Dun climbed up and looked over the sea of yellow. The song resumed and what followed was…well…sick.
Joseph put on a ski mask, which was commonly worn during the Vessel tour, and played one of the most famous songs off of the 2013 album, “Car Radio.” As the song reached its peak Joseph ran along the side of the crowd and climbed up on a pedestal near the back of the GA section; when he reached the top he ripped off the mask, revealing his face as the crowd screamed.
Trench’s final song, “Leave the City,” is about endings. The song discusses the band’s hiatus but looks ahead to the new era of Trench. This closes out the album, but not the concert; their setlist is never complete without “Trees.” Dun and Joseph climbed back out on the crowd where drums were being held up by screaming fans. The signature finale is a beloved tradition and perfectly captures the electricity of Twenty One Pilots. See for yourself:
We bonded over our love for Twenty One Pilots as 14-year-olds, and our friendship has only grown stronger. We’re roommates, we’re adults, and we thought we were over it. Clearly, we’re not. When we saw the band perform at the Aragon, we were two of 5,000 people that fit in the venue; at the United Center, we were two of 23,500. And yet, somehow, it didn’t feel all that different. While the venues just keep getting bigger, the band still manages to keep their shows personal. Joseph and Dun’s energy never fails to amaze us; so, you can expect us to cover the next tour, too.