Twenty One Pilots may be only two guys, but they make enough noise for a full squadron, dropping bombs of youthful angst and anxiety that represent for school band and bedroom misfits across the country. And the Ohio duo of singer/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun pulled out all their tricks for a packed TD Garden on Friday, bolstering broad hues of alt-rock as well as rap and reggae with a dash of pre-recorded samples – and kinetic, eye-popping staging to match.
The two-hour show kicked off on an apocalyptic note as Dun emerged from the darkness with a torch, his face wrapped in a bandit’s bandana, while Joseph arrived like a stalker in ski mask atop a burning car shell to ignite “Jumpsuit,” the lead track off ambitious, atmospheric new album Trench.
The mood lightened (with fans singing “Wish I could turn back time, to the good ole days” in “Stressed Out”) as the duo broke the set into bite-sized shifts of style and substance. Joseph moved from bass-playing terrorist to ukulele crooner (with Dun adding trumpet icing to “Don’t Believe What’s on TV”) and dub toaster on “Nico and the Niners.”
The singer also evoked Eminem in the tone and flow of his rap delivery, all the way to the back of the arena floor via a descending rope bridge. On a B-stage, Joseph turned introspective in impassioned piano ballad “Taxi Cab,” an early hit where he implored, “Don’t be afraid!” Then a four-sided scrim dropped over the duo for the electronica-tinged “Neon Gravestones,” floating shifting (natch neon-colored) geometric designs and gigantic images of the two musicians.
Dun (who lifted his shirt to show “Red Sox” scrawled in ash across his chest as he crossed the bridge back to the main stage) earned his own moments. At times, a hydraulic lift jacked his drum platform high, and in “Holding Onto You,” he out-did Joseph’s sporadic leaps off an upright piano with a backflip. Openers Awolnation and Max Frost joined the duo for capable covers of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” and the Beatles classic “Hey Jude,” which Joseph said was the first song he ever learned on piano.
By the time a small drum kit was balanced atop the edge of the general-admission floor crowd for Dun to climb aboard the fan-hoisted platform for a perfunctory bit of drumming, it seemed like another check on the list of an overstuffed pop show with an initially sketchy sound mix. But there was no missing the exhilaration of Joseph cavorting in a skeleton outfit amid smoke geysers during “Car Radio,” which begins, “I ponder of something great.”
The singer noted that the band played Cambridge’s T.T. the Bear’s Place several times about a decade ago, only to now sell out the Garden — “a dream come true.” As Joseph played a small keyboard and the crowd sang along to “Trees,” the keyboard rose to reveal he was on top of the car again. Twenty One Pilots had come full circle, with a lot in between.