Philly experienced an end of summer deep-freeze on Friday, September 2nd at the Wells Fargo Center for the Twenty One Pilots Icy Tour, with band members, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, in support of their home studio project, Scaled and Icy (a wordplay on “scaled back and isolated,” or what music was in its cocoon-state). It was during a time when Tyler wasn’t sure if music was dead, he explained, as pandemic-laden insecurities forced an anthropological shift and sort of desolation. The intent here was to counter that point of isolation with a focus, instead, on aspects of escapism and separation from that darkness. The album, released at the height of COVID-19, follows the previous release Level of Concern (incepted during quarantine) which aided in relief efforts for music and crew. In this vein, although they’ve been doing it for some time now, the band’s unmasking onstage seems to take on a double entendre, mutually symbolic of the new normal.
From the opening cinematic intro, which transports us to a tundra biome, where the band is seen trudging through whiteout conditions, the audience is taken on an arctic ride. An icy blue door (conceivably a portal to the unknown) hovers above with whipping winds and snow squalls, that opens into the real world, where Twenty One Pilots emerge on stage, decked out in their iconic ski masks with icy steampunk goggles. The sequence is synced to booming bass reverb that we can feel coursing through our bodies, affirming that we are indeed alive and in the moment!
The effects only enhance the experience as blasts from snow canons activate an indoor blizzard— materialized by physical elements which the band brought in from the other dimension we had just seen on screen. Philly was legit under a winter storm warning, and it was awesome! This gave me the idea actually that Twenty One Pilots should open their very own immersive walkthrough attraction, and give life to physical manifestations of their art, which I will add to the end of this review.* (Personally, I’m so stoked about this concept, and I hope you will be too!)
For those who may not know, Twenty One Pilots dove into a Cinema Experience, which was described as one which “delivers a psychedelic reimagined take on live theater and performance on a massive scale.” The press release goes on to say “This intense and dazzling concert event immerses viewers deep into the eclectic catalog and imagination of one of the most creative acts in music as they unveiled their first new album in three years, Scaled And Icy. The product of long-distance virtual sessions which found the duo processing their upended routines along with the prevailing emotions of 2020 – anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and doubt – the album is a collection of songs that push forward through setbacks and focus on possibilities worth remembering.”
This might be a bold statement to some, but Tyler Joseph is proving to join the ranks of some of the greatest piano men of all time (Billy Joel, Elton John)—not stylistically, mind you—but in that realm of legend-status) and his versatility of instruments is mindblowing—while Josh Dun’s ferocious drumming is just mesmerizing to watch (seriously, he is on par with the late great Taylor Hawkins, in my opinion). There are definitely more Grammys in store for this band, after having won their first in 2017. On this night, Twenty One transported us through space and time when they played a mashup of songs from every era of their 6 studio albums: Addict With a Pen / Forest / Ode to Sleep / Hometown / Bandito / Choker. They played some favorites, of course, too: The Outside, Chlorine, The Hype, Tear in My Heart, House of Gold, Heavydirtysoul, Ride, Car Radio, Stressed Out, and Heathens, in addition to many others.
As for fan theories on the meaning behind the prominent teal logo, glowing center stage (of what looks like a giant fork), I came up with one: If you look closely, it almost resembles a sai-shaped ice pick. “SAI” is the acronym for the Scaled And Icy album. Given the deconstruction of the above concept, about wrestling with certain states of being in our present day, I believe it’s a symbol for breaking free from the metaphorical ice which numbs us from sustaining “normal” or “active” lifestyles. To give credibility to this theory, I looked up why mice can stay alive frozen, and Google gave the following scientific breakdown: “In extreme cold, mice enter torpor – a hibernation-like state of slowed metabolic rate and reduced body temperature. This state usually coincides with fasting when food becomes scarce. Mice and other mammals, especially in arctic areas, use torpor to conserve energy and survive long bouts of cold.” Since we’ve been in survival mode, worldwide over the past few years, this only makes sense. Hypothetically, we’ve just been frozen in the rat race. Frozen in time and space.
Contrary to ice, Twenty One Pilots had a fair share of fire on the stage, presented during their stripped-back acoustic set, where Tyler beamed “Welcome to our campfire,” before stoking the fires again to a blazing amped up production. The polarity of Fire and Ice made me think of a world-famous poem of the same title by Frost which says “Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice.” I think the band’s view here would be to get through either one, with an ice pick or fire poker. It’s your weapon of choice in an apocalyptic showdown: just utilize it to the best of your ability and get ready for the Ride (but take your time).
This show had everything, including a trumpet solo of the Halo theme, great stage banter and funny anecdotes. The theatrics were insane! Early on, Tyler covered his hands in a symbiote-like black liquid (symbolic of the insecurities he faces). There was crowd participation and performance art (Tyler seemingly teleporting throughout the crowd, making use of all of the stages so that fans felt engaged), bandmates (and ukulele!) crowdsurfing. Yes, ukulele crowdsurfing! A lone uke sailed across a sea of people, because the singer had forgotten it on the other side of the venue. Then dual bandmate-crowdsurfing: Josh was balancing on a drum kit above the audience, while savagely drumming to Saturday… not long after, Tyler climbed his way up to B-Stage for the song Ride, before fearlessly diving into the crowd below, who waited to glide him to the main stage on a mattress-like inflatable raft. To punctuate dramatics, Tyler was pantomiming rowing to corresponding drum beats before taking the stage again.
The band introduced other musicians on stage as well and expressed heartfelt thanks for living in the present and doing what they love; they thanked everyone from the opening band to the stage crew, staff and security (which Tyler used to work prior to making it big). Towards the end of the show, they were all cheesing for the camera and playing with the concepts of motion and freeze frames, or being frozen in time, as the musicians froze… and Tyler was still walking around them. Surprisingly, Tyler was also still recovering from a recent knee and foot injury (seen here on Twitter, icing) so the fact that he was running around and high-energy was risky. To be fair, it was called The Icy Tour!
An artist I recently covered, The Weeknd, recently opened an experience at Universal Studios Hollywood Horror Nights, which the director explained was an exercise in extracting the nightmares which existed within the album’s creation. A few years ago, I had been to a haunted attraction in Mullica Hill, NJ, called Frozen Tundra: Experience the Perfect Storm at Night of Terror. Side note: I always thought the set of The Day After Tomorrow (depicting the world iced over) would make a cool fully immersive experience. There was another called Yeti: Terror of the Yukon from the aforementioned Halloween Horror Nights in 2019. Readers can join me in a Twitter poll to vote for #TheIcyExperiment here. Let’s go, Skeleton Clique (AKA TOP’s loyal fanbase)!
To take this even further, I wondered what it would be like to have more artists on board, and create attractions based around collective albums. Recently, Linkin Park tweeted, “The Reanimation opening has lived many lives: As a beautiful prologue to a daring experiment. As a delicate introduction to an epic reinterpretation. And, eventually, as a portal into our onstage ecosystem.” So how cool would it be to design an attraction where the Twenty One Pilots Icy world winds through a bone-chilling maze, leading into a terrifying hive-chamber of mutated killer bees (as pictured on the album cover Hybrid Theory) and the bands’ music bumping throughout each corridor? No doubt, each has influenced the other in their music, as the late Chester Bennington had uploaded a video (shown below) singing TOP’s Judge before he passed, and the chorus is so haunting: “You're the judge, oh no / Set me free / I know my soul's freezing / Hell's hot for good reason / So please, take me.” Unfortunately, the bands never got to perform together, but maybe we can join worlds here for an Interactive Tour: the ultimate fan experience. Fingers crossed (go vote in the poll I just mentioned if you want to see this happen and tag @horrornights)! Since The Icy Tour was interactive, I hoped to make this review interactive as well! Stay icy!