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Owl City at the Biltmore Cabaret

Owl City at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Oct 15 2009. Maurice Li photo

Owl City at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Oct 15 2009. Maurice Li photo.

Review – Owl City at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, July 16 2011

– review by Rachel Langer

It seems this weekend in Vancouver is a teenager’s paradise. Between the opening of the final Harry Potter installment to a show by synth-pop act Owl City, the angst level in this city has reached Defcon 5.

Fortunately Adam Young, the talent behind the Owl City name, is an expert at the upbeat, and he kept a sunny mood at the Center in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday night. Though Young generally flies solo when creating and recording, he was accompanied on stage by five others, including a violinist, cellist, a synth player/backing vocalist, drummer, and guitarist.

The group took the stage sans Young, and started with “The Real World”. The crowd noise grew steadily until Young arrived, complete with a rock stance and somewhat pitch-y vocals. As he played through some of his well-known tracks from the 2009 Owl City major label debut Ocean Eyes, he responded to the crowd with radiant smiles and words like “special”, though it became apparent that deviating from the album sound for a live show was not part of the formula.

“Cave In”, “Angels”, and “Hello Seattle” were replicas of the recorded tracks, with “Vancouver” replacing the occasional “Seattle”, which caused the crowd to respond loudly. Young did migrate to acoustic guitar in order to create an intimate feel for “The Bird and The Worm”, though there was no deviation to the tune or pattern of the song.

A solo piano rendition of “Lonely Lullaby” brought a more introspective mood to the evening. At the song’s end, Young, looking as though he was physically ill, slowly rose from his piano until the lights came back and he bounced back into a pulsing rendition of Fireflies” – at one time the most downloaded song on iTunes in the US.

Owl City’s stage show, though simple, was ultimately effective in engaging the crowd, and utilized crisp timing to coordinate the lights with heavy percussion beats. It was a good example of how “simple” can sometimes be enough, if properly coordinated. With a few extra elements, such as a holographic-esque projection of an artist featured in a song Young introduced as “Reptilian Azure” thrown in, the stage was always alive.

From the hyper-organized setlist to the contrived intro to each song, though, nothing was unplanned. The thing about artists like Young, Lights and the now-quiet Postal Service is that they are interesting because none of the instruments are real. It’s a solo digital production. Seeing Owl City was an exercise in watching the inorganic transformed into the organic, but the performance lacked the showmanship and ease of a true live show.

All this was completely lost on anyone under 21. Since that encompassed 90 per cent of the ticket holders, I’m sure Owl City will have no problem selling seats and T-shirts in the future. I however will be content to blast the upbeat tracks from my car stereo.

Special shout out to Mat Kearney (the second opener) for his mid-set improv of a rhyming segment on the delights of Vancouver!

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