I'm pretty upfront about my love for Twenty One Pilots: a rap-rock duo made up of Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, both self-taught musicians from Columbus, Ohio. They've been making music and plays shows (separately and as a band) for over a decade now. Their last album, Blurryface, went triple platinum, their arena tours sell out in minutes.
This is largely due to their obsessive fanbase, which has slowly grown over the course of the band's career. If and when you attend a Twenty One Pilots' show, it can even be distracting with how rabid the fans are. At the showing of the boys' most recent tour (The Bandito Tour), almost everyone in attendance wore yellow/camo clothing, similar to the outfits worn by the band in their most recent music videos for their new album, "Trench," (of which the tour was in promotion of).
But aside from the screaming fans (who do genuinely love the band), the show was absolutely incredible.
It's no secret that if you dig underneath the surface of the band's lyrics, you'll find their identities as Jesus followers to be at the forefront of their songwriting. In the album booklet that came with physical copies of their new album, the duo make it a point in the thank-you's section to "thank God for sending His Son, and for guiding this band's story from the start."
Even in a recent interview with Alternative Press, Tyler Joseph, the primary lyricist of the band, came forward and addressed that the closing track of "Trench," a piano ballad titled "Leave the City," centered around him struggling with his faith in God.
All this to say: not only is God discussed in their lyrics and album notes, but the band's devotion to God makes for a spiritually compelling live show.
At roughly two hours long, the band covers material from their very first self-titled album back from 2009, to "Trench." Obviously, there are more than enough stunts to keep audiences not just engaged, but amazed, from backflips to drum solos on top of crowds, to a flying sky-bridge...it's truly an athletically impressive feat.
But at the heart of the stunt-filled performance, is a narrative that invites the audience into Tyler and Josh's spiritual journey.
The most recent album is conceptual, telling the story of a character escaping an evil city and hoping for freedom from their past self, enduring the rough and unfamiliar outside the city to hopefully find the way to a better life. Very explicit biblical imagery of fire, wilderness, and death are interwoven throughout the lyrics to paint a very earnest and spiritual journey.
Obviously, the live show brings this journey to life in an incredibly visual way, with fire spilling out of an empty Cadillac onstage during the band's thunderous "Jumpsuit" opening, to neon lights glistening over the B-Stage during the haunting, mid-set piano number "Neon Gravestones."
Unlike most other worship sets or concerts I've attended, Twenty One Pilots strive to a paradoxical "less is more" approach to exploring faith with live music: Less explicit preaching means inviting audience members into an emotional experience, where they can project their own struggles with spirituality onto the music, and have God speak into their own life and trials. At the same time, these cues into deeper spiritual thought and reflection are brought out by these more nuanced set designs, where the audience is also invited into a story, to see the characters of the songs and performance as reflections of themselves.
I think many worship bands could learn from this duo's approach: a worship set that isn't afraid to be a little more theatrical, more live-detail-oriented, taps into the storytelling approach that God has always used to reach His people: whether it's the story of Abraham or the parables of Jesus, or even Paul's letters, which constantly call followers of God to reflect on the stories and parables of Scripture to allow God to speak His Truth.
At the end of the day, Twenty One Pilots are producing some of the most spiritually engaging live experiences in modern Christian culture, and everyone needs to be taking greater notice.