Sunday, October 28, 2018

Max Freeze, AWOLnation and Twenty One Pilots

Back in 2016, Denise told me she was going to get tickets to take the kids into Madison Square Garden to see Twenty One Pilots. She asked me if I wanted to go, and I told her no. I really wasn't familiar with the band at all, although I knew the rest of the family liked them. Also, at the time, my health was still fairly lousy, and even at my best I'm not that usually thrilled to haul myself into Manhattan. In retrospect, though, it was the wrong decision.

A short while after that, my daughter showed me the video for "Heathens", using my love of comic book movies as a hook (it was much the best thing about Suicide Squad), and I was impressed. (And, in fact, I wound up ranking it #3 on my Top 20 Songs of 2016 list). At this point, the tickets were bought, though, so it was too late to change my mind. They went to the concert and had a great time. (My kids came back talking about some synthesizer band that opened for them, who I later found out was Mutemath, a band I like a lot, so that made me sad to have missed the show. On the other hand, they were also talking about how much I would have hated the ride home on the Long Island Railroad, where they had to stand for the whole trip, and some girl barfed all over the car just to make things even more pleasant.)

Not too long after the concert, my son got me to listen to Blurryface, and again, I liked it more than I expected to. I'm really not a fan of hip hop, so the band's use of it was one strike against them. But I also liked quite a few of the songs, including "Lane Boy", "The Judge", and "Stressed Out". So it would be fair to say that while they're not up there among my favorite bands, I've grown to like Twenty One Pilots, and to enjoy their work.

Cut to this year, and Denise noticed that they were playing Nassau Coliseum on her birthday. Naturally, I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. So she picked up some tickets for the whole family (I got her a different present closer to her birthday), and I picked up Trench as soon as it came out.

Trench is an interesting album. It's a concept album, which is always a plus for me. The songs themselves didn't grab me at first listen, although they've been growing on me. All in all, I still like Blurryface better, but I also like Trench more than not.

I later learned that the opening band for this show was going to be AWOLnation, a band that I'm not that fond of. I've really never liked that "Sail" song, and they remind me of Imagine Dragons, another band I'm kind of tepid about. But Denise and the kids like them, so at least that was good.

It's was a bit of a difficult week again in the house, but everyone agreed that we all wanted Denise to have a good birthday. So on Saturday, we had a quiet day at home, and then decided to drive into Nassau early and get dinner before the show.

We ate at Houlihans, which was pretty good, then scooted over to the Coliseum just a little late for the 7PM start time. (We thought maybe they were bluffing, and 7PM was when the doors would open. We were wrong.)

We rushed to our seats (which involved a bit of mountain climbing, as were pretty high up), and reached them about halfway through the first set. It was a single guy, playing guitar and other instruments to a track, sort of a one-man karaoke. At first I thought this was AWOLnation, until the performer asked the crowd, "Are you excited to see AWOLnation?" (I wasn't. But obviously, this wasn't them). At this point, I noticed two neon signs to the left and right of the stage that said "Max Frost". But as I'm not that familiar with the new Coliseum yet, I thought maybe it was an advertisement for restaurant up front near the VIP section. Or even more likely, a desert place. ("I'll take two Max Frosts and a cappuccino, please!") So I asked my kids if they knew who this was, and was met with much derision. I just love family outings. (I also thought that I remembered that Max Frost was one of the villains in the iZombie series, but it turns out that was Max Rager. Whatever.)

Anyway, Max Frost was energetic enough, but he wasn't really my thing. I can't really even describe his style, more than to say it was a form of pop rock. Sputnik Music describes him as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/citizen of Earth. Hmm. He wasn't terrible or anything, especially for a karaoke artist. I remember when there used to be live music, though.

Max Frost finished up, and after a short delay, AWOLnation came on. Yay. I think they played as a 4-piece, but I'm not sure -- the stage was kind of dark in the back, we were pretty far away, and my eyes aren't what they used to be. Anyway, I actually liked them more than I thought I would. They started the set with a few synthesizer dominated songs, which was fine. The latter part of the set was less interesting to me -- it was a bit more guitar heavy. Of course, they played "Sail" as their closing number, which was good for me, because I used the occasion to run downstairs and use the nearly empty Men's Room. (And let me tell you, the sound was pretty good in there.)

At this point, there was a long break between sets. At times, the crowd grew impatient, chanted, stomped their feet, etc. They were just adorable. I think there might have been some equipment problems backstage, because at one point, things went black behind the curtain, which I thought was the cue they were ready to start. Then the red light back there came on again, and stayed on for a long time. (I kind of like to fantasize that drummer Josh Dunn lost a contact lens, and everyone was back there crawling around on their knees looking for it.)

Unfortunately, during the wait, my stomach started acting up. (Theres a reason why Denise and I usually get dinner after the concert). I ignored it for a little, but at one point, a couple with interior seats made me get up, and I realized I was courting disaster if I didn't go down and take care of business. I thought for sure I was going to miss the opening of the set. Fortunately, I knew the setlist (they've been playing the same one every night - it's a very choreographed show), and the first two songs weren't favorites. "Fairly Local" and "Stressed Out" were up third and fourth, and while I didn't want to miss them, I decided that as long as I was back in place for "Heathens" which was up fifth, I could live with myself. So I ran back downstairs, as two muffled (and vaguely annoying) synthesizer notes slowly pulsed again and again.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried. That's how long the break was. I was long back in my seat when the place finally went black, and the crowd emitted a high-pitched shriek. (This was a house dominated by teen girls and young women). Then flames shot up, and at first I thought the drum kit was burning. But no, it was a special effect meant to call to mind the video for their first song, "Jumpsuit".

So what can I tell you about the show? I'll start with the negatives first. Even though I know there are only two official members of the band, I thought they'd be touring with a full band. I was wrong. We live in the age of tracking tapes, and Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn take full advantage of that fact. Not that this is a totally new thing. I remember seeing Flock of Seagulls at the Beacon Theater back in the eighties, and at one point, they were halted mid-set by equipment problems. As they all stood around looking, all of a sudden, the music roared back to life, and they all had to scramble back to their instruments quickly to try to minimize the break in the illusion. It was pretty funny, and I still love Flock to this day. So I guess I can forgive Twenty One Pilots for playing to some canned music.

My second negative -- Josh Dunn needs to keep his friggin' shirt on once in awhile. (Although I mentioned that to my daughter in the car later, and judging by her reaction to this suggestion, it's probably just as well I didn't voice it out loud at the concert. I'd clearly have been stomped to death by a bunch of overheated teens and tweens. (As for Tyler Joseph, he's kind of a Frodo-looking mfer, so he kept his shirt on. I'm sure he has his share of female fans, but the other guy seems to be the preferred eye candy for the estrogen set.)

Anyway, that's really all I've got for negatives. Well, that, and also not all of the songs were great -- there were one or two down spots. For example, I would have gladly traded that stupid song about the cheetah for "The Hype", my favorite song from Trench (which was inexplicably left out of the setlist for this tour).

But now for the positives. Holy crap! These guys kill themselves to put on a great show. They played a 20-song set with a 2-song encore, so that a show that started at 7PM ran until after 11. (The set break may have been long, but they didn't penalize the crowd by eliminating any material.) And the show features two stages (there was one in the middle of the floor), so even if you're far from the main stage, you get to see them when they play the other one. Meanwhile, there were pyrotechnics, a killer light show, interesting video segments, a bridge that came down over the crowd so the band could walk from one stage to the other, and some magic with a body double that allowed Joseph to suddenly appear at one of the gates in the upper deck for one of his songs. They also had a portion of the set where they were joined onstage by Max Frost and AWOLnation for a pair of cover tunes, The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" and The Beatles' "Hey Jude". Overall, it was pretty damned impressive, and admirable too. This is a crowd that will come back again, because Twenty One Pilots entertained the bejesus out of them, and you can't say that about every band.

I also want to mention that they did a neat version of "Heathens" that started with a slow, beautiful piano intro.

It was also a great show for fans who've come along more recently, as fifteen of the twenty-two songs they played were from either Trench or Blurryface.

Will I see them again? I'd like to, even though my daughter has banned me from any future shows by the band due to the aforementioned remark about Josh's shirt. Heck, if I could have traded AWOLnation and Max Frost in for Mutemath, it would have been a perfect show. I know the birthday girl enjoyed it, and I'm pretty sure the kids did too (even if they didn't do their homework and bone up on the Trench LP before the show like Denise and I did). It was certainly one of the better shows of the year.

The setlist for Twenty One pilots can be found at keepyourshirtonjosh.com, and the set for AWOLnation can be found at wishtheyweremutemath.com. The set for Jack Frost's little brother Max can't be found anywhere, because not even his mama cares.

Peace out.