Twenty One Pivots: Twenty One Pilots Forgo A Cookie-Cutter Arena Tour For A Series Of Market Takeovers And Underplays
Brad Heaton – Lift Off
On the eve of the “Takeover Tour,” Twenty One Pilots appear on the cover of this week’s Pollstar.
For Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, who together comprise world-conquering alt-rock duo Twenty One Pilots, Denver has always been a special stop.
“It’s the home of the first Chipotle,” says CAA music agent Andrew Simon, who represents Twenty One Pilots alongside the agency’s Jeff Krones, with a laugh. “The first time we booked them there, they pulled into town and went right to the first Chipotle and took pictures of themselves out in front of it.”
Twenty One Pilots’ bond with Denver transcends burrito bowls and extra guac, of course. The duo spent the ‘10s rocketing from the world’s tiniest clubs to its grandest arenas, and the Mile-High City – which Simon calls “one of the top concert markets, period” – is a perfect microcosm.
In Nov. 2013, Twenty One Pilots made its Denver headlining debut, selling out the 550-cap Bluebird Theater and grossing $10,174, and its ticket counts in the market grew annually. The following spring, it notched 1,600 tickets for a May sellout at the Ogden Theatre. In September 2015, the band made its Red Rocks debut, selling out the amphitheater’s 9,293 tickets. Less than a year later – but now with three singles simultaneously in the Hot 100’s top 25, all of which would peak in the top five – Twenty One Pilots returned to Red Rocks for two gigs, moving 18,283 tickets and grossing $748,135. And, in fall 2018 and fall 2019, the now-Grammy-winning band packed Denver’s Ball Arena.
On Sept. 21, that history – which already took place at an unprecedented pace – will be condensed into just five days when Twenty One Pilots begin the “Takeover Tour” in Denver. For the Denver portion of the tour, which is a series of fall residencies in five U.S. markets where the band will perform in increasingly larger rooms, Twenty One Pilots will play the Bluebird, then the Ogden, then the new 3,950-capacity Mission Ballroom, before headlining Ball Arena for the third time.
“We’ve been working with them in this market for quite a while and Denver is, to my knowledge, one of their biggest markets,” says Brent Fedrizzi, co-president and COO of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. “They took off like fire here, and there was no turning back. We’ve been a part of their career ladder as they stepped it up here, and it’s been phenomenal.”
Katja Ogrin / Redferns – Banditos
Twenty One Pilots play Resorts World Arena in Birmingham, England, during the “Bandito Tour” in February 2019.
Through November, Twenty One Pilots will stage similar takeovers in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Atlanta, replicating its ascents in those markets in the span of days. Between the Boston and Atlanta stints, set for mid-October and early November, respectively, the band will play three nights at Nationwide Arena in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio, besting the two-night stand it staged at the venue in June 2019.
The “Takeover” concept stems from “Tour de Columbus,” a five-show June 2017 run where the band played the Ohio city’s 284-capacity Basement, 1,600-capacity Newport Music Hall, 5,500-capacity Express Live! and each of the two Columbus arenas, Nationwide Arena and Schottenstein Center. The week also included an art exhibition hosted at Nationwide and, all told, the five shows sold nearly 32,000 tickets.
Twenty One Pilots manager Chris Woltman says the “insanely celebratory” week of “Tour de Columbus” always stuck with the band and its team, even if pulling off the format in other markets seemed like a pipe dream under the conventional wisdom of arena and festival touring. The pandemic, however, reoriented what was possible for artists of Twenty One Pilots’ stature.
“As we moved through what happened a year ago in March and started to look at the complexities – of which there are just too many to even fully comprehend – of a global arena tour … we thought, ‘Hey, is this a moment where we actually take the idea of the ‘Tour de Columbus’ and apply it to X number of cities around the United States?’” recalls Woltman, owner of Element1 Music, Marketing & Management.
“It felt like a good compromise,” Krones says. “We knew we couldn’t not work, because we’ve been gone for so long and put out so much music [including the album Scaled and Icy, released in May]. But we also felt like it wasn’t responsible to go out and do an 80-city arena tour.”
Given the pandemic’s contours, the format made sense when the band’s team began planning it in June 2020. Considering the live industry’s tenuous return from its pandemic shutdown, it seems even more prescient today.
“During COVID, it’s a super smart concept, because you’re parking it in a market for a few days,” Fedrizzi says. “You’ve got a little bit of a space and you get to your next market and you set up shop.”
Daniel Knighton / Getty Images – Pechanga Gang
Josh Dun (left) and Tyler Joseph (right) of Twenty One Pilots play San Diego’s Pechanga Arena in November 2019.
The “Takeover Tour” is a nifty idea on paper – rewarding key hotbeds of Twenty One Pilots fandom with coveted underplays – but took elbow grease to bring to fruition.
“On a local level, there’s definitely people who helped move a couple – I won’t call them mountains, but I’ll say some good-sized hills,” says Simon, with Krones adding, “People bought in so much to the idea that it just kind of worked out.”
Take Fedrizzi, who has promoted shows by the band for years.
“I felt like it was a gift to be one of the markets that was chosen, and we did everything in our power to get ‘em the dates they needed,” he says. “It’s tricky. All these clubs need to line up. They need to be available. And we did have a lot of shows booked at that time in our venues, because we had been pushing [shows disrupted by COVID]. We kept pushing those forward, so avails were at a premium.”
On its face, the “Takeover Tour” might seem like a simple proposition compared to the typical arena trek. From October 2018 to November 2019, Twenty One Pilots played 116 headlining shows, mostly at arenas, during “The Bandito Tour,” grossing $73.6 million across the 88 shows in Pollstar’s database. On top of that, Twenty One Pilots were festival fixtures, headlining Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Boston Calling stateside; Leeds, Reading, Pukkelpop, Lowlands and Lollapaloozas Berlin and Paris across the pond; and Lollapaloozas Chile, Argentina and Brazil in South America.
But, by virtue of their scale, most major arena tours can’t dwell on individual markets. Agents target desirable markets and dates, adjust tour routing accordingly when necessary and make do with what they can secure. The “Takeover Tour,” on the other hand, was a complex puzzle, as Simon, Krones and Woltman identified target markets and built runs in each around arena plays. Beyond securing four venues of varying sizes in each market, the team had to make sure shows would happen sequentially based on capacity – with the runs ideally culminating, as they do in all five “Takeover” markets, with Saturday arena plays, themselves contingent not just on concert bookings but the schedules of tenant sports teams.
“The biggest thing is getting the arenas on the Saturday night,” Simon says. “You kind of work your way backwards from there, you go big to small. Your hopes are that the 500-seat club that you tell you can do Twenty One Pilots on a Tuesday night, you kind of figure that might be able to take care of itself.”
Chris McKay / WireImage – All Over ATL
Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph performs at Atlanta’s Tabernacle in 2014. The band will return to the 2,600-capacity club this fall for the first time since 2015 as part of its “Takeover Tour.”
The tour’s club plays, however, were far from afterthoughts. While high demand in the mid-’10s meant that Twenty One Pilots could’ve easily skipped steps, the band didn’t, helping it avoid market saturation and forge bonds with venues of all sizes along the way. Each market will open with a club, ranging from the 550-capacity Bluebird to Atlanta’s 1,050-capacity Center Stage Theater, all of which Twenty One Pilots played between 2012 and 2013. From late 2013 to early 2014, Twenty One Pilots played each of the second stops for the “Takeover” markets, which range in size from Chicago’s 1,200-capacity House of Blues to Atlanta’s 2,500-capacity Tabernacle. While the band previously played three of the tour’s penultimate stops – L.A.’s Greek Theatre, Chicago’s Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom and Boston’s Agganis Arena – the other two, Denver’s 3,950-capacity Mission Ballroom and Atlanta’s 3,600-capacity Coca-Cola Roxy, didn’t exist when Twenty One Pilots were ascending through live’s ranks.
The tour’s arena plays – Denver’s Ball, Southern California’s Forum, Chicago’s United Center, Boston’s TD Garden and Atlanta’s State Farm Arena – are recent and familiar turf for the band, which played all of them in 2018 and returned to Ball, the Forum and State Farm in 2019.
“These are all cities that just have really good verticals,” says Simon, noting that “amazing verticals” strengthen markets all the way up to the arena level.
Regional considerations played a large role when selecting markets, Krones says, but “it was easy to knock out a lot of markets because they don’t have that” robust chain of verticals.
Fedrizzi heaps credit upon Simon, Krones and Woltman – “Everything they do is precision,” he says – but the band’s promoting partners were also instrumental. Longtime connections with Fedrizzi and promoters like Live Nation’s Jason Wright and Adam Cohen, who helped orchestrate the tour’s Chicago and Atlanta portions, respectively, made the dates possible.
“All of these guys have really been an amazing part of the story since day one and have really been involved with the band since their club shows and everything else,” Simon says. “It’s very much a family.”
For Ryan McElrath, who as Live Nation senior vice president, North American touring has promoted the band for years, marshaling resources for Twenty One Pilots’ Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston takeovers was a no-brainer.
“We all want to see the success of Twenty One Pilots continue to grow and we know touring is the best way to continue to connect with their fans across the country and across the globe,” McElrath told Pollstar by email. “The upcoming Twenty One Pilots tour was routed with a special format the guys had in mind and is going to be a unique experience for the band as well as their fans. This run is going to give fans the opportunity to see them and experience them live in several different formats, from in a tiny club room like The Paradise [Rock Club in Boston] and then just days later on the tour at a full arena like TD Garden.”
Kevin Winter / Getty Images / iHeartMedia – Fahrenheit 21
Tyler Joseph catches serious air during a performance at Southern California’s Forum in January 2019.
With the “Takeover Tour,” the Twenty One Pilots team made the most of an unexpected and unusual confluence of factors to deliver a unique experience to fans, difficulty be damned.
“The easier pathway would have been 30 arena shows and call it a day,” Woltman says. “We’ve always chosen to take the road less traveled. COVID played a part in it. Strategy played a part in it. Where we are right now, relative to giving the fans something slightly different, played a part in it. The idea of global touring and how challenging in this moment, right now, global touring is played a part in it. When we ran that through the wash, it felt like, ‘Hey, if there was ever a moment in time to do this, it’s right now.’”
Twenty One Pilots already has several European festival plays lined up for June and July 2022, when it will also stage a London takeover. And, if history’s any indication, a proper arena tour supporting Scaled and Icy can’t be far off.
“They’re on a really good trajectory,” Simon says. “There’s always gonna be a mixture of festivals and playing their hard-ticket dates.”
Still, the “Takeover Tour” will remain special for all involved.
“We all like this part of the story, as an industry,” Simon says. “This is the part that we all work collaboratively to build.”
“It’s gonna be off the hook,” Fedrizzi says. “Why do we do this? This is why we do this.”