See Also: Q&A with Adam Young of Owl City
Last night we were all invited to worship at the church of Owl City. The service? Held at the Bluebird Theater, sold-out and led by singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist, Adam Young. Besides following along to Young's multiple, Bon Jovi-style fist pumps -- which were awesome initially, but became annoyingly predictable fifteen minutes into the show -- admission requirements included knowing all of the words to "Fireflies," Young's massive hit from 2009, and an open mind.
After performing for about ninety minutes -- a relatively short amount of time for someone who has released four albums' worth of material since starting out in 2007 -- we found ourselves wanting more: more fist pumps, more soaring, atmospheric lights, more utterances of recycled words like "angels," "summer" and "spread my wings" and, most importantly, more celestial alternative rock that's part Relient K and part watered-down Killers with empowering Christocentric messages fit for looking out bedroom windows and daydreaming.
Owl City opened with a song that, while energetic and unexpectedly interesting, was all too overwhelming. A dubstep breakdown at an Owl City show? And to start us off? "Cave In" was enjoyable until the wobbly bass kicked in. No dubstep, not here. But we can forgive Young for this shortcoming. After all, it was only one of two for the evening -- the other being a downtrodden, somber number that saw Young take to a keyboard, not a guitar, and lead his congregation through "Plant Life," a real downer. But again, we can forgive him -- because for two songs that didn't quite make sense for Owl City, there were fifteen more that did, and they were done well. Comparing the recorded songs to the live versions, Owl City took on a new life at the Bluebird.
"Let me see me those hands. It's going to be one of those moments," Young told us, introducing a song that sounded all too similar to its predecessor in the set. In fact, most songs sounded the same: A thundering drum backbone, rhythm guitar (and maybe a solo here and there) and synthesizers to make up the rest. "Those moments" filled the Owl City show, and what moments they were.
On bigger songs, like "Yacht Club," the band's sound was larger than life, and Young's personality -- he is considered very shy -- was sky-high. The synthesizers, guitars and drums especially reverberated together in a way that transcended the walls of the Bluebird. In a word, Owl City sounded confined, limited even. And throughout the show, from "Dementia" to "Gold," the lighting, in combination with the fist pumps and Young's Bono-worthy gesticulations, made Owl City more deserving of the bigger venues it played previously, like the Fillmore, or perhaps a theater that might otherwise host performances of Jesus Christ Superstar.
The opener, Jaymee Dee, did well to open for Owl City. Sparse, acoustic and with a more expansive vocabulary, she was entertaining without any help from atmospherics. No wonder she has such a big YouTube following (it was through YouTube that Dee was discovered, she explained). "Misfit" and "Tiptoes" were pure Colbie Caillat-induced fun, while her cover of "Toxic" was nearly too sexy for the under-21 crowd.
Personal Bias: I enjoyed listening to "Fireflies" during its '09 heyday, but I was pleasantly surprised by how strong some of the other Owl City songs were and how different they were to "Fireflies" -- in a good way.
Random Detail: I was stationed right by the soundboard for the majority of the show, so I had a first-hand view of the additional Owl City "band member," if you could call him that, on another synthesizer. He was just as into moving those knobs and levers as Adam Young was fist-pumping.
By the Way: Don't miss Jayma Dee on YouTube. Her cover of "Pumped Up Kicks" tops any "Kicks" cover out there.