Flying high on their number one album release, Trench, avant-garde rock icons Twenty One Pilots blazed across the United States through the fall months on their sellout “Bandito Tour.” Packing A-level arenas at every stop, frontman Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun underscored the show’s physical acrobatics and visual pyrotechnics with potent audio delivered by a 138-loudspeaker Meyer Sound LEO Family system supplied by VER Tour Sound in partnership with Concert Investor.
The music of Twenty One Pilots (TOP) defies pigeonholing. It’s a genre-hopping mash of alt-rock mixed with electro-pop, hip-hop, reggae and whatever strikes the duo as imperative in the moment. The inherent challenge of defining the music mix is further complicated by dynamic staging that includes soaring risers, the magical teleporting of Joseph to the rear of the arena, platform crowd-surfing by Dun with his drumset, and performing on an audience bridge and B stage far in front of the arrays.
Riding herd on the myriad audio complications is FOH engineer Shane Bardiau, who took the helm of TOP’s live sound in 2015 a few months before the release of the breakthrough Blurryface album. For Bardiau, the LEO Family system has proven an important tool for keeping potential audio chaos under control and delivering undiminished aural impact to the audience.
“I first heard a LEO system at a PA listening exercise that VER hosted a few years ago,” he recalls, “and I remember walking back to the far 300 section of the arena. I was blown away by how ‘in your face’ the LEO system still sounded, and the controlled low end. That’s when we decided to take a LEO Family system — which was based on the LYON line arrays for more flexibility — on our mixed venue 2016 tour. But this time, since we’re doing all A-level arenas, we’re anchoring the mains with the larger LEO boxes.”
LEO and LYON array
No matter how loud the TOP crowd — and it does get frantic at times — Bardiau is confident he has the headroom to handle it. “LEO is one of the very few boxes that I’ve used for mixing this artist where I can push it up to a high SPL on the meter, but it doesn’t hurt.”
As designed by system tech Kenny Sellars, the “Bandito Tour” system deploys grand totals of 44 LEO and 56 LYON line array loudspeakers for the front, side and rear hangs. For pummeling yet controlled bass, the system also includes six 1100-LFC low frequency control elements flown per side in 4/2 cardioid arrays, plus 14 more 1100-LFC ground stacked in a 7 x 2 front arc. Fills are eight MINA loudspeakers at front, two UPM-1P for stage thrust, and two UPJ-1P for outfill. System drive and optimization are supplied by nine Galileo GALAXY and two GALAXY AES processors.
For system tech Sellars, the upgrade to the new GALAXY processors for this tour has proven a welcome plus. “I really appreciate having the phase correction settings available for every box,” he says. “My phase traces are gorgeous and that makes me happy!”
For his part, Bardiau gives high marks to the system’s low end. “One of the deciding factors for carrying a Meyer rig was the 1100-LFC. I’ve never heard a sub so controlled in an arena environment. It’s easy to keep my mix from getting muddy, which is no easy feat in a ‘boomy’ arena.”
Bardiau lavishes similar compliments on his sidekick Kenny Sellars and tour audio provider VER. “Every day Kenny and his team get everything sounding incredible despite the unique challenges of different rooms,” he says. “I haven’t been doing sound checks yet every night sounds like the night before. And VER is always on top of things. I always get what I ask for and their gear is top of the line. That kind of support is priceless.”
Feeding into the Meyer rig’s GALAXY processors is a DiGiCo SD5 console augmented with a raft of Waves plug-ins, including C6 multiband compressor, API 2500 compressor, SSL Master Bus and MaxxVolume. The wireless mic system is Shure Axient Digital, with a Shure KSM9HS capsule on the lead vocal mic.
TOP music takes you on a journey
Asked what is most satisfying about mixing TOP’s performances, Bardiau responds: “From the opening song to the close of the show, the music takes you on a journey and tells a story. I feel privileged to be the medium connecting artist and audience. I help make sure everybody hears and understands the message, and feels the impact. It’s refreshing to be part of something so positive in what often seems a very negative world.”
Sellars offers similar sentiments. “Those two guys give it their all every night and I’m proud to be a part of it. Coming to this show is worth it even if you don’t know — or even like — the music.” The “Bandito Tour” kicked off in Nashville on October 16, touched four corners of the country in Washington (Tacoma), Florida (Sunrise), Massachusetts (Boston), and Southern California (Inglewood), packing 21 additional arenas in between before wrapping up in late November in Kansas City.