Show Review: Owl City with Lights and Paper Route at The Fillmore, 4/5/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on April 6, 2010

Adam Young of Owl City

Adam Young of Owl City

In July of 2009, I saw Owl City’s San Francisco debut in a tiny club at 330 Ritch, the home of Popscene, the city’s center stage for brand new acts. Adam Young, the main brain behind Owl City, and Matthew Decker, who added live drums to the wall of synthesizer sound, performed seven songs for a crowd of less than 200 people. Now, see the speed at which fame moves you: less than nine months after that show, Adam and Matthew — along with a new plethora of performers — have returned to San Francisco for two — two! — sold-out performances. I think I should also point out the fact that both shows were completely sold out MONTHS ago — not an hour or to before the show, as was the case for their Popscene debut. Needless to say, I was bewildered — but excited — when I found myself returning to the Fillmore for the first of these two concerts.

The ticket-printed start time of 6:30PM seemed to be confusingly early for quite a few members of the audience; nevertheless, it was the accurate start time for the Nashville quartet Paper Route, who kicked off tonight’s performance. Shifting gears away from the electropop and infectious melodies that were to dominate the rest of the evening, Paper Route put on an astonishing performance wrought with gorgeous, sweeping riffs, thundering arpeggios, and an otherworldly chorus of synthesizers. The members shifted from spot to spot throughout the show, switching up their roles as well as their instruments. Drummer Gavin McDonald moving from a tiny 3-piece kit perched atop a riser to the cymbal-washed monster kit at the back of the stage; singer J.T. Daly took his place on the small set in between vocal performances; the remaining members each took up numerous instruments of percussion and electronics to throw each song across several dimensions before letting it rest. It might have seemed a bit pretentious for the members of the crowd that were looking for something slightly more tame, but Paper Route’s aggressive yet beautiful set only added to the intensity of the night.

Paper Route

Paper Route

After the end of Paper Route’s performance, a great deal of equipment needed to be shuffled about the stage before the lights dropped again, signaling the arrival of Canadian synthstress Lights. Armed with a pair of analog Korg synthesizers, Lights jumped right into her set, shifting the evening’s mood away from dramatic and majestic to calm, joyful and undeniably upbeat. Lights’ music is, essentially, the synthesizer equivalent of a singer-songwriter’s output — folksome melodies; introspective, storytelling lyrics; a passionate shine to her voice and a hell of a musician at the helm. (She’s also one of the few musicians who can rock out with a keytar and look good doing it.) Despite the rather talkative, prodding audience heckling on through her set, Lights welcomed the Fillmore crowd into her world with open arms, delivering her music with a bright grin through the course of her set.

Lights performing solo

Lights performing solo

The following photos are from David Price, shot at the performance on 4/6/10

When the lights snapped off a few minutes after 8:30PM — the scheduled start time for the headlining act — I was expecting a Beatlemania-esque level of screaming from the crowd around me. That happened less than a minute later, when Adam Young marched across the stage to Owl City’s name-emblazoned drum kit, took the seat that would later be filled by Matthew Decker, and began pounding out the drumbeat of the opening number, “Umbrella Beach”. The real surprise came in the form of violinist Laura Musten and cellist Hannah Schroeder, who took the two folding chairs in front of the drum kit, and brought the song’s melody to life with a few well-placed string plucks. Adam relinquished his seat to Matthew, dancing over to the center of the stage take the mic and truly kick the set off. The light show burst into being, the screams pierced through the veil of synthesizer beauty. Owl City had arrived.

In stark contrast to his Bay Area debut of last July, Adam carried himself onstage with confidence and gusto. Gone was the somewhat-nervous superstar perched over a laptop and keyboard; present was a handsome, multi-talented musician, who traded duties between keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, and (of course) the main vocal performances of each piece.  Trading vocal duties with Adam was keyboardist Breanne Duren, whose uncanny resemblance to Lights made me wonder if the synth queen had returned for another round. There were only a few moments for banter between Adam and the crowd; thankfully, these were not mired in catcalls and screams as the openers had been, but with rapt attention and a winning smile on Adam’s face, instead of the down-turned stare that he had worn for his first San Francisco show.

The infectious grooves and bubbling synths were given even greater life by the cascade of lights that bathed the band in blues, reds and greens. The towers of LEDs that occupied the rearmost wings of the light displays pulsed and danced along with the music; even when these were somewhat dormant, there were at least 4 other lights on the stage that swept back and forth, covering the auditorium in a sea of colors. The lights fell to their dimmest point near the end of the set; just before a performance of the lonesome ballad “Meteor Shower”, the band stood stock-still in muted blues, holding down a set of dark, quiet notes as Ronald Reagan’s 1986 address of the Challenger shuttle tragedy echoed through the auditorium. This was one of a few great surprises for the night — another being the impromptu percussion and/or synth jams that precluded a few of the band’s more well-known pieces, including “Cave In,” “The Technicolor Phase,” and, of course, the megahit “Fireflies.” Owl City finished their set with only one encore number; most appropriately, it was “Hello Seattle,” the song that put Adam onto the world map in the first place.

Despite being somewhat intimidated by Owl City’s superhuman rise to fame, I was extremely glad that I went to tonight’s performance. Seeing Adam with a smile on his face, hearing a great deal of the strength and confidence in his voice that had only been tentative the first time around, and watching him “conduct” the musicians in his band as if he was leading an orchestra, was very gratifying. To anyone who has listened to his words and has been charmed by the beauty of his music, it was always clear that he wanted to do this with his life. The moment of quiet reflection for the fallen Challenger was unexpected, but powerful, and tied back to the sense of majesty that Paper Route had brought into the show at the very beginning. While it may be some time before I am able to see Adam Young and the rest of the Owl City collective in a place as small as the Fillmore, I look forward to that future occasion, and hope that he is still just as happy then as he was tonight.

Owl City’s setlist:

  1. Umbrella Beach
  2. The Bird and the Worm
  3. Air Traffic
  4. On the Wing
  5. Hot Air Balloon
  6. Dear Vienna
  7. Fuzzy Blue Lights
  8. Cave In (with extended drum solo/battle introduction)
  9. This is the Future
  10. Dental Care
  11. The Saltwater Room / The Technicolor Phase
  12. Fireflies
  13. Meteor Shower (with Challenger tribute)
  14. Vanilla Twilight
  15. Tip of the Iceberg
  16. ENCORE: Hello Seattle

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Zach April 6, 2010 at 11:54 am

Thanks for the review. I’m heading to his 2nd show tonight, and the descriptions of the openers, and approximate start times of the sets are a big help. 🙂

Reply

tom April 9, 2010 at 12:38 am

i went monday, these were my exact thoughts, he was a ton more confident than before.

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