By Melissa Maerz
July 27, 2017 at 08:49 AM EDT

twenty | one | pilots

  • Music

There were so many decked out college kids at the MTVU Woodie Awards on Thursday, you’d think a ModCloth warehouse exploded somewhere nearby.

There were girls with neon face paint smeared across the bridges of their noses like hippie warpaint. There was a guy with a turtle shell strapped to his front and a stuffed Yoda doll hanging off his back. Someone was holding a giant pinwheel high in the crowd, and someone else was dancing with plastic flowers woven into her hair.

Everyone was getting hopped up on Mountain Dew. And no one had any patience for the slow songs. They wanted high kicks and laser lights and fog machines and, above all, somebody—anybody!—to shout, MAKE SOME NOISE!

Poor Tegan and Sara didn’t stand a chance. The twins, who hosted the night’s awards show — for a full list of winners, including Machine Gun Kelly, the Weeknd, Kimbra, Earl Sweatshirt, and more, click here — in complementary leather jackets, played a very nice, mellow set, starting with “Back In Your Head.” They even tried to get the crowd to dance to a quietly swaying version of “Now I’m All Messed Up.” “We only have one purpose, and that’s to get your bodies in motion!” insisted Tegan. (Or was it Sara? Someone please tell us how to tell them apart!) But those bodies were not moving very much at all, not even when the sisters played “Body Work.” By the time they wrapped up their last song, “Closer,” a great stadium-pop anthem that would be a crowd pleaser in any other venue, some guy in the back was shouting, “We want Macklemore!”

Macklemore would play later. But first, it was time for twenty one pilots. If you don’t recognize that name, don’t feel bad: “I know you don’t know who we are!” teased frontman Tyler Joseph. But later that night, people would know this duo. Everything about the band screamed: Here we are now, to entertain you! Joseph and drummer Josh Dun showed up in skeleton costumes to play “Ode to Sleep,” a strange combination of Slim Shady-inspired rapping and fun.-style pop hooks. Then Joseph took his costume off, climbed the light rig high above the crowd, and leaned out to sing “Holding onto You,” a track that ended with Dun doing a backflip on stage and confetti exploding from the air. The crowd likes this! The crowd cheers!

Joseph, remembering that he was on TV, announced, “I can’t wait to hear my mom to tune into her son!” Next up was a song called “Car Radio,” which found Joseph playing Ben Folds at the piano, except he was wearing a black ski mask pulled down over his face. (The song is about someone breaking into a car, so it was fitting.) He split the crowd into two halves and got each one to sing a different part. Then he went fishing for screams. “Who’s happy to be alive tonight?” he asks. More cheers! “We’re going to jump together,” he insists. “Ready?” And they did. Even more cheers! All that Mountain Dew energy is paying off!

During the final song, “Guns for Hands,” which somehow transitions from a bright electro melody into a reggae breakdown, eventually built to an epic drum battle between Joseph and Dun, each of them circling the other, hitting four connected snares as hard as they could. For the big grand finale moment, Dun threw the drumsticks into the crowd. “That was the greatest show I’ve ever seen from an entertainment standpoint!” said a college kid in the crowd. His friend put it another way: “That was sick!”

All riled up from twenty one pilots, the audience was ready for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who came onstage to the strains of “10,000 Hours,” the best rap song to ever reference Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. (Okay, it’s probably also the only one.) “We started performing for like 13 people here in Austin,” Macklemore told the crowd, reminiscing about how things have changed over the past year, “and six of them were, like, relatives and family.” He also said he’d got the poncho he was wearing from an Austin second-hand shop, which mad a good segueway into their big hit, “Thrift Shop.”

That song’s so ubiquitous that everyone sang along, but it’s not Macklemore’s (or Ellen’s) favorite. That honor is reserved for “Same Love,” a moving anti-homophobia song featuring Mary Lambert, who sang the hook live onstage. (Mary! Mary! the crowd chanted.) As the lead-up to their track “Cadillac,” Macklemore told a story: he was recently home in Seattle for only 36 hours and he was getting bored, so he looked up the word “Cadillac” online and found a 1990 Cadillac Seville limousine with suede interiors. At first it was a joke, but then he found that he wanted it for real, so he bought it and drove it down to SXSW. After their final song, “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore promised that they’d drive the Cadillac outside the venue after the show, open the doors, put a Macklemore tape in the cassette deck (yes, this car is old), and treat his fans to the dance party of their lives.

The show’s capper? Producer/DJ wunderkind Zedd, who spun dance music and eased into dubstep breakdowns while the screen behind him flashed trippy fractals, Tron images, and laser lights. Someone threw a toilet paper roll in the air, and it unspooled in a lovely streamer over the crowd. Fog machines shot steam into the room. And everybody—facepaint girls, turtle boys, and pinwheel guys alike—stopped chugging their Mountain Dew and danced.

Read more:

EW Special Coverage: SXSW 2013

SXSW: 2013 Film Award winners are…

SXSW: Comedy-nerd all-stars Fred Armisen, Marc Maron, and Scott Aukerman unite at IFC panel

twenty | one | pilots

  • Music
Complete Coverage
  • twenty | one | pilots