“Fireflies,” the ubiquitous quadruple-platinum single from Owl City, introduced the band as a commercial force to be reckoned with in 2009. Now, two years later, with a new album in tow, the group has descended from the great heights of its breakthrough to reconnect with the audience that remains. Evinced by Thursday night’s performance at Club Nokia, Owl City’s Adam Young is now experiencing the double-edged sword of mainstream success at the hands of the youth market: trying to maintain a relevant presence with adolescents whose pop cultural tastes are transforming rapidly as they come of age.
Club Nokia is a surprisingly complex and densely designed venue, maintaining the immaculately clean feel of a stadium while offering a more intimate overall layout. Owl City’s hyper-digitized brand of emotional rock music seemed perfectly-suited for the setting, but the show’s high production values and complex lighting schemes came off as a bit overblown in the limited environs. Last night’s performance was well attended but clearly not sold out, the crowd skewing very young with a predictably large female contingent.
Opening with a simulated thunder storm complete with flashing white lights and sampled rain swells, the group took to the stage and launched right into the triumphant pop of new-album-opener “The Real World.” The tune is Owl City-by-numbers emo, with sprightly string arrangements, clean synth tones and a wide-eyed set of gooey, metaphor-based lyrics. As recorded work, the music comes off as light and saccharine, in the live setting it is given a bit more grit, with a unique emphasis on percussion sounds and rhythms.
Adam Young may write songs in the guise of an emotionally vulnerable teenage boy, but on stage he performs with the polish of a seasoned music industry veteran. Crooning into his microphone and mincing across the stage, Young strangely evoked the ethos of Vegas stalwart Tom Jones — a frontman with charisma and an almost campy appeal, purveying a sound and style usually relegated to purely nostalgic status. The setlist drew heavily from new album “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” while consistently delving into singles and deep cuts from breakthrough disc “Ocean Eyes.” The two albums share much in the way of mood, theme and texture, giving the concert a consistent sonic foundation.
The most musically rich portions of the night revolved around rhythmic arrangements in which the group used multiple drum kits and mallet percussion. Drummer Casey Brown was stellar, matching the nuanced electronic beats with a forceful, highly-syncopated full drum treatment. At one point Young joined Brown in a percussive interlude in which both musicians showcased impressive skills on the drum kit. The group as a whole seems to have cut its teeth on the sort of intricate, Warped-tour-derived pop punk which eventually grew to encompass emo-driven acts such as Dashboard Confessional and Say Anything. As a result, the band is comprised of technically proficient musicians who were able to pull of some complex, lightning-fast arrangements in the live setting.