Minnesota's prodigal son, Adam Young, returned home on Saturday to finish his two-month tour at Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Owl City's music is most commonly described as electronica, but to call it that not only diminishes it to just one ingredient of its broad combinations, it also misses all of its defining components.
The show that Young presented this weekend in St. Paul not only had far more in common with classical music than electronica, but was relentlessly inspiring and offered unfaltering idealism -- neither of which is usually associated with this genre.
Opening for Owl City, Mat Kearney, one of the rare few to come out of Nashville not playing country music, was able to hold his own, playing a 40-minute set of nine songs that all were catchy, if not already hits.
He opened with a pumping "Fire and Rain," one of the four songs from his album City of Black and White. When I first heard Kearney's biggest hit, "Nothing Left to Lose," I mistakenly thought he would be a flash-in-the-pan Coldplay wannabe, but I was wrong. The song has longevity--still poignant and heavyhearted after many listens. With "Undeniable," Mat did is trademark freestyle rap on Minnesota about St. Paul, the beautiful summers, freezing winters, and the Twins. Yet what really got the audience going was when he walked through the crowd during "Runaway Car," risking having his butt grabbed.
"All I Need" was written around two of Mat's friends from New Orleans and their story during Katrina. Performing on a stark piano, bathed in red light, the song culminated around the lyrics:
"And if all we've got is what no one can break
I know I love you
If that's all we can take
The tears are coming down
They're mixing with the rain
I know I love you, if that's all we can take."
Kearney's voice shares as much emotion with its sound as it does with words.
Closing with his new single, "Hey Mama," from his upcoming album, Young Love, out August 2, Mat Kearney shows that he is light years ahead than most musical artists out there, and can write a love song that breaks your heart without sounding trite.
Before a mixed crowd of screaming young girls and their parents, Young, backed by a five-person band, played an hour and 40 minute set, doing 21 songs equally mixed between 2009's Ocean Eyes and his recent release, All Things Bright and Beautiful.
Opening with ATB&B's "The Real World," the lights went out in the crowd, and bright blue lights shone from the stage as the band came out to the respective instruments, including keyboardist and up-and-coming solo artist (Minnesota native) Breanne Düren. The perfect choice to what would be a fantastic set, "The Real World" had a vibe that served as a good starting point for the show, sounding almost like the sun peaking out behind clouds after a storm.
Happy to be home, Young was grateful for everyone showing up, "when instead you could have been at Cowboys and Aliens." Yet, he says it best in "Umbrella Beach" with the lyrics "Home will always be here on sea, out of sight, where I disappear and hide, I think dreamy things as I'm waving goodbye, so I'll spread my wings and fly," as a way to describe his success in having to leave the Cities to actually make a name for himself.
The show had the feel of a classical orchestra: one song, "Setting Sail," was fully instrumental, and conversely in all the other songs Young's voice was as much an instrument, often sounding lofty and airy with the effects used.
The majority of Owl City's lyrics are celebration of innocence, revelation, and imagination, including "The Honey and the Bee," with its blatant subject. Maintaining its naivety, Young, armed with an acoustic guitar, built up the song with backing complimentary vocals be singer/keyboardist Breanne Düren.
Owl City's spiritual side was clear mid-show; on "Meteors" and especially "Galaxies," which was preempted with a voice--over of President Reagan's speech (aptly titled on the album "Jan. 28, 1986") about the astronauts in the space shuttle Challenger explosion "touching the face of God," was apparent with its lyric: "He is the saving grace of the galaxies."
Without a doubt, the highlight was an effervescent, five-minute version of his huge hit "Fireflies," which surprised me that he placed it halfway through the set; perhaps purposely done to as to show that he was not a one-trick pony.
"Vanilla Twilight" is a follow-up single to "Fireflies" that I felt didn't get its due when released. In the music video, it translates into a religious higher being, but to me, it converts to a love song with lyrics such as: "The stars lean down to kiss you, And I lie awake and miss you...As many times as I blink, I'll think of you tonight." Many of Adam's young fans seemed to relate to him in this song, feeling as if he were singing to them. He further plays into that role when he said things like, "I have a huge crush on you and Taco Johns," but with his church-boy charm, girls feel they have a chance with him when he says, "I'm sorry for all the awkward dancing; I'm very shy."
Closing the main part of the set with "The Yacht Club," and after spending much of the night with his signature gangly dance or guitar, Young picked up his stool and swung it around as the rest of the band was joined onstage with the opening bands, throwing out cotton candy from the concession stands.
For the two-song encore, Young sang unequivocally on "How I Became the Sea" and closed with the dreamy "If My Heart Was a House."
For as much grief as Young has gotten for his meteoric rise, where some might say that his perception of what he could do before he even made it big was what made him big, I was impressed with his show -- I'd been wondering how he was going to pull off a full-stage show since Ocean Eyes was made mostly with MIDI instruments. Perhaps he is a young man with talent and not just a one-hit wonder.
Critic's bias: I enjoyed Owl City's set, but Mat Kearney was the highlight of the show for me.
The crowd: Families and young teenage girls. I felt like I was at church camp.
Overheard in the crowd: "I saw a lady in her forties shaking it like she meant it."
Random notebook dump: I thought the choices for opening acts were a little odd. Unwed Sailor was pure instrumental, which I was not expecting, and I'm sure also confused a lot of the audience. Although I love Mat Kearney, I felt his demographic is probably 10 years older than the Owl City audience.
Mat Kearney setlist:
Fire and Rain
Nothing Left to Lose
Breathe In Breathe Out
Closer to Love
Here We Go
All I Need
Owl City setlist:
The Real World
I'll Meet You There
Dreams Don't Turn to Dust
Jan. 28, 1986
Deer in the Headlights
The Yacht Club
How I Became the Sea
If My Head Was a House