“Now Chase was an old man and full of years when he set out with his daughter and her teenage friend to go to the Twenty Øne PilØts concert in Birmingham this past Friday. As the lights began to flash, and the music began to play (at over 200 decibels) he held his ears, clutched his staff close to his robes, and thought, “I will be gathered to my people and give up the ghost if this noise does not abate soon.” Then he set his face like flint, inserted his ear plugs, and persevered.” Twenty Øne PilØts concert review, chapter 4, verses 21-27, King James Style. Read on for the more modern version…which includes pictures, videos, Bible musings and more.

Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots from their 2017 concert in Birmingham, Alabama. Courtesy of Twitter user: @amanda_gravitt

Way back during the Summer of 2016, when I first agreed to take our second daughter, Abbey, to the Twenty Øne PilØts pilots concert in Birmingham, February of 2017 seemed like such a long time away. Though I love music, I am not a huge concert-goer. Not a huge fan of crowds, and – while I really appreciate good, hard, loud music – concerts are just a little too loud for me, kind of like a monster truck show. When she first asked to go to the concert, I demurred…over and over again, but she persisted, and I weakly caved. We bought tickets, and I awaited the show with baited breath. 😉

As a pastor and preacher, it usually thrills me when my kids actually remember something I preached about. Usually. Funny thing about Abbey – I think she has listened to ONE sermon I’ve preached, and that sermon was about the persistent widow in Luke 18. If you’re unfamiliar with that parable, Jesus teaches it to His disciples to show them to “always pray, and never give up.” He uses the illustration of a widow who absolutely wears out an uncaring and unjust judge, just because she keeps coming to him and begging for/demanding justice. Ultimately, he gives in and gives her what she asked for – not because he was a good judge, or he thought she was right…but because she wore him out with her perseverance. THAT was the ONE message my daughter Abbey seems to have learned from me. And she has taken the persistent widow paradigm, and transformed herself into a superhero of sorts: PersistentDaughter Girl. Yeah, it’s not a great name, but she does have that one irresistible power – when she sets her mind on something, she ALWAYS asks and NEVER gives up.  I hope she doesn’t read this, but between you and me – her superpower usually works. Even if I resist for a long time. So it was, this Friday, that I found myself driving her and her friend to the concert. Review after the adorbs picture. (that is not a word I use in real life.)

PersistentDaughter-Girl (on the right) Don’t let that smile mislead- she will grind you to powder.

Birmingham Twenty One Pilots Emotional RoadShow Concert Review:  There were three acts that played in Birmingham on Friday, February 24. 2017 at the Legacy Arena: Judah and the Lion, Jon Bellion and Twenty One Pilots themselves. Judah and the Lion opened the show, and – though I was not very familiar with their music – I was impressed with their sound and the energy of frontman Judah Akers. Akers comes across as a humble and genuine guy, who seemed truly excited and almost blown away by the opportunity to open for a big band. That was actually quite endearing, and the Nashville threesome performed very well. Aker’s opening line was striking to me, and went something like this, “Hello Birmingham – you may not know who we are, but we’re going to give you everything we’ve got!” And they did – bravo to Judah and the Lion. In a recent interview at TheLala, Judah Akers (the band’s frontman) pondered the significance of being Christians in a band that was not known to be a “Christian band:”

“Obviously we’re Christian, but we don’t really want our music to be “Christian.” It’s who we are, so it’s going to come out in our music, but I think for us, or for me at least, it’s one of those things where we still remain true and being okay with the fact that we are Christians and some of our lyrics are going to say that. And people either like it or not.”

I was at the concert (in the 90s) when Christian metal group POD announced that they were going to stop being a “Christian band,” and just be a band with Christians in it. Their hope was that they would reach people with the good news better with that shift, but, at least from outward appearances, things don’t seem to have turned out that way. Twenty One Pilots themselves is a band that is made up of professing Christians, but is not a “Christian band.” Maybe that is the way to go about things, but I have rarely seen it work out in the music world. Most who profess Christianity and then produce strictly secular music generally go the way of Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and others. The music becomes greater and greater, and the Christian part becomes lesser and lesser – the exact opposite of John the Baptist’s life choice: “He must become greater and I must become less.” I hope for different things for the Judah and the Lion guys, as well as Twenty One Pilots.

Twenty One Pilots Birmingham Concert Review

Jon Bellion, who currently has a top ten song, was the second act. Bellion is a writer and producer (he wrote the chorus to Eminem and Rihanna’s “The Monster,”) who is now transitioning into more of a performer role. Bellion did a solid job also. He engaged the crowd well, was gracious, and performed with a high amount of energy. His set featured some very catchy songs, great vocal work, and an excellent light show. Interestingly, Bellion did a “clean version,” of his songs, and even mentioned that fact. I can’t help but wonder if that was due to the influence of Tyler and Josh, but it was appreciated. Travis Mendes, a singer/songwriter from Brooklyn that performs as a sort of back up to Bellion, almost stole the show with his vocal ability. Midway through the Twenty One Pilots set, the Josh and Tyler brought out the two opening acts to join them for a medley of songs all together. On one of the songs (video below), Mendes did some astonishingly good vocal work. I told my daughter that he was probably the best pure singer of all of them. Faithful to her guy Tyler, she just glared at me like I was a forty-something clueless person. Nevertheless, look for Mendes to become more and more popular – he has real talent. Kudos to Bellion for sharing the stage with him!

Jon Bellion at Birmingham Twenty One Pilots Concert.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not really a concert guy – I’d rather be hiking in the woods, hanging out with my family and friends, teaching/writing about theology, or watching football. Knowing that, I hope you can appreciate the fact that I was blown away by the Twenty One Pilots show. It was exceptionally good and highly entertaining for the entire two hours that their set lasted. Musically, it was top-notch. They performed roughly 30 songs. 30! And they did all of them with incredible passion and energy. The mid-set “supergroup” of Twenty One Pilots, Judah and the Lion, Jon Bellion and Travis Mendes was a great sort of intermission! They did some ‘classics,’ like “Jump Around” by House of Pain, and then all together pretended to be a boy band, which was very amusing. Here are some highlights of the two hour performance:

  • The LED screens behind the band featured striking graphics and visuals that accompanied the songs with a high level of synchronicity
  • Vocals and music were spot on – the sound arrangement was great. Very little distortion. It was way too loud for me, but I can appreciate that a concert needs to be loud.
  • At one point Tyler Joseph got into a hamster ball, and ran around the mosh pit in front of the stage – on top of everybody. How fun! Josh Dun did a backflip off of the piano, which was also quite cool.
  • The light show for all three acts was engaging and beautiful to watch. The concert itself was a real feast for the senses. I hope nobody with photosensitive-epilepsy came!
  • Tyler and Josh moved ALL around the arena – even into the stands. That gave everybody a chance to see them somewhat up close. At one point, Tyler suddenly appeared in our upper level section – which was shocking and exciting, even for a non-fan such as myself. (I like their music, I just wouldn’t call myself a member of the Skeleton Clique.)
  • The guys showed a video from the early days of the band – 2011 – that featured them performing for small crowds and repairing a broken down trailer. It was endearing, and showed that they remember where they came from. The between song “speeches” by Tyler were also good – he struck me as a real person, not yet saturated with superstar syndrome. I don’t know the story, but you have to feel sorry for Chris Salih and Nick Thomas – two founding members of Twenty One Pilots who left the band in 2011. Six years later, and Twenty One Pilots have just won a Grammy and set the record for the most consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Rock charts. That is incredibly impressive. I wonder how Salih and Thomas feel about that? (Note: Salih, at least, is a very skilled wood-worker)
  • Getting into and out of the concert at the BJCC Legacy Arena was surprisingly easy! Within fifteen minutes of the concert ending – which was sold out – we were in our car and on the interstate heading home. That was amazing – well done Legacy Arena!

Overall, it was a great show – five out of five stars. Easily the best concert I’ve ever been to, and I would probably go again, given the opportunity. The thing that impressed me the most is that both Dun and Joseph worked their tails off for two straight hours. I imagine that they are physically exhausted after every show – running back and forth on stage and all across the arena. I appreciate hard work, and it is very obvious that Dun and Joseph are not lazy rock musicians, but are highly practiced – and fit! –  entertainers.

Thoughts on Idolatry:  “Dear Children keep yourselves from idols,” writes John, the apostle/elder at the end of his life. One of the things that struck me about the Twenty One Pilots set, not mentioned above, is that it was so clean. I heard no swearing or sexually inappropriate talk or lyrics. (That might have happened, but if it did, it went over my head.) As noted above, the guys in the group both profess to be Christians, and Christian imagery and theology can be found peppered all throughout their music. There are many, many worse bands for my daughter to name as her favorite. Some of my favorites from my teenage years (Guns and Roses, REM, Metallica, etc.) all make that list. I am not really concerned with the lyrics of Twenty One Pilots songs (perhaps some quibbles here and there…) My MAIN concern is a heart issue. An idolatry issue. We can like things – even things that aren’t obviously sinful – too much. When Christians elevate worldly things – even seemingly neutral ones – to a high platform in our lives, we run the risk of idolatry. Tim Keller defines idolatry thusly:

“An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”  – Tim Keller in Counterfeit Gods.

On the way out of the concert, as I was reflecting on how great a show it was – and how absolutely into Twenty One Pilots everybody there seemed, I heard one young man in his twenties literally say, “Praise be Twenty One Pilots. Praise be Tyler and Josh.” Now – he was probably kidding around a little bit, but it struck me so much that I stopped walking and texted myself his quote so I wouldn’t forget it. The concert was great. Tyler and Josh seem like great guys. But they are not worthy of worship and adulation – no human is – and I saw way too much of what might otherwise pass for worship at that concert.

From the Twenty One Pilots Twitter feed.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command.” -Jesus, Matthew 22:37-38

The most important thing in the world, according to Jesus, is to love God with ALL of your heart, mind, soul and strength. It is impossible to do that while also loving other things – anything – with all of your heart. I don’t believe that listening to music is sinful – music that does not obviously advocate sin and rebellion against God, that is. However, even seemingly neutral things can hinder people in their pursuit of God:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.”Hebrews 12:1-2 

The Bible teaches that sin can entangle and hinder us from running our race with endurance. Here’s the thing – WEIGHT, in Hebrews 12, is a hindrance that is NOT SIN. Listening to music isn’t necessarily sinful, but idolatry is not merely when we do bad things, but when we elevate ANYTHING that is not an ultimate, Kingdom thing, to an ultimate level. Idolatry is when we elevate other things to the level of God things – to the level of utmost importance. This is obvious sin, and danger. Having an ultimate love for Twenty One Pilots, or music, or football, or food, or anything can be a WEIGHT that tremendously hinders the love and pursuit of God. Something can not be an obvious sin and can still KEEP US FROM RUNNING THE RACE WITH ENDURANCE. Weight causes fatigue and robs endurance. Fatigue hinders love. Lack of love literally hinders EVERY part of the Kingdom. Thus, says John:

“Dear Children, keep yourselves from idols.” 1 John 5:21