CAMDEN — During Twenty One Pilots’ performance of “Guns For Hands,” a fan-favorite from their 2011 album “Regional at Best,” singer Tyler Joseph crawled into a human-sized hamster ball and threw himself into the audience, running over their hands, a la the shenanigans of The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne.
Joseph wasn’t the only one to utilize the audience for a cool trick during his ascending alt-pop group’s Camden set. During “Ride,” drummer Joshua Dunn drifted a small platform — with a drum set atop — surfing across the pit. Once enough fans were underneath it, he climbed onto it and began pounding the skins.
The Ohio duo’s visual spectacular, complete with jarring video images reminiscent of “Donnie Darko,” headlined Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5 ninth birthday show Saturday at BB&T Pavilion, an all-day fest that also included performances from AWOLNATION, New Jersey’s own The Front Bottoms and MUTEMATH.
– True to form that helped them sign to Fueled By Ramen (Paramore, Panic! At The Disco) in 2012, Twenty One Pilots put on a show replete with expert animation, epic visuals, backflips and eerie cut scenes.
Their set began with the duo shrouded in red smoke, as they donned matching dress pants and red blazers, and wore their now-calling-card black ski masks. The huge LED screens behind them flashed images similar to the artwork on their latest album, “Blurryface,” which morphed the two-piece from a group considered in the Alternative Press Music Awards into the winners of Billboard’s award for the top rock album of 2016.
Since its inception in 2009, Twenty One Pilots has cultivated a dedicated fan base — the skeleton clique — many of whom relate to the duo’s lyrics about alienation and self-doubt, and supporters were front and center for “Migraine,” during which Joseph extended the mic and allowed fans to sing the entire first verse.
The display screens abruptly cut to a black-and-white video of Dunn walking downstairs to a basement, passing ominous masked figures as he went. “Don’t go,” they begged him as he changed his clothes and drank a bottle of water. “Don’t go back onstage.” But he did, for the vulnerable song “Polarize.”
Twenty One Pilot’s best moment, though, was when Joseph jumped down into the crowd, with fans’ hands holding him up, and rapped the opening to “Holding Onto You.” At the same time, Dunn backflipped off Joseph’s piano during the song’s bridge.
Joseph was forced to cut short the dynamic teenage anthem “Stressed Out” when he noticed a female fan had apparently fainted in the crowd. He crouched near the front of the stage until help arrived, then returned to his piano to raucous applause for a delicate version of the song’s final chorus.
– AWOLNATION frontman Aaron Bruno plays with such a frenetic energy that it’s nearly impossible to ignore him when he says “hands up” — from the looks of it, nearly all 25,000 fans put their hands up for “Run,” the band’s powerful intro.
“We’re all here to celebrate music. Sometimes it’s all we’ve got in this weird world,” he said between songs. “It’s saved my life many times.”
The Los Angeles-based electronic rock band was met with a devout fan base, many of whom knew every word to every song.
Intense lighting was timed to the dubstep-inspired drops in “Sail,” during which Bruno dove into the pit to crowd surf.
– After The Front Bottoms‘ performance, a few people wondered aloud why Twenty One Pilots’ FBR labelmates weren’t higher up on the concert’s bill. Frontman Brian Sella’s aggressive, open-string guitar strumming and signature squawky voice earned huge accolades from the audience.
“West Virginia” was introduced with the same fake rain sounds that are featured in its music video, and during the song’s bridges, The Front Bottoms were especially intense, with Mat Uychich pounding his drum kit, Tom Warren shredding on his bass and Ciaran O’Donnell jamming on his keyboard.
Sella chugged a brew on stage to introduce “The Beers,” a 2011 track from when the band was still playing basement shows in New Jersey. It turned into arguably the most passionate singalong of the day, inciting crowd surfing in the pit and a few injured guests to wave their crutches in the air.
Their finale was the group’s most fan-beloved single, “Twin Size Mattress.” The band has been ending on that song for nearly every show in the past two years and the intense final chorus of the song even reduced more than a few fans to tears.
– “Pay attention to the drummer in MUTEMATH,” a teenage girl in the crowd told her friend before the band’s set. “He’s absolutely wild.”
Moments later, Radio 104.5’s sweetheart Wendy Rollins took the microphone and told the audience, “Watch this drummer. He’s going to blow your mind.”
Both were right. Darren King played with powerful precision and concentration.
MUTEMATH’s psychedelic indie-rock sound propelled the band from New Orleans to their current world tour with Twenty One Pilots. In 2009, the group released the song “Spotlight” as part of the soundtrack for the film Twilight. A dazzling light display, complete with a disco ball and dozens of poles of flashing lights, carried “Spotlight” through its final chorus.
*This story was originally published on NJ.com.