The night before heading out on a national tour with Deas Vail and newcomer Lights, Adam Young (the man behind the musical phenomenon Owl City) headed out with his band to a little town called Manhattan, Kansas. Not exactly the most premiere little town for such a big name artist, but the home of one of Kansas' biggest universities, Kansas State University. K State's McCain Auditorium was jam packed for yet another sold out Owl City show on January 20, 2010. It was the night before heading out on a national tour with Deas Vail and newcomer Lights, but Owl City wasn't the only band on stage.
It had been some time since I had been to a concert that had all seating and no open floor of any kind, but such was the case at McCain Auditorium. We took our seats as the first act had already started up. It was a group from Nashville called Hot Chelle Rae. I was ready to write them off from the start, as they were in the middle of covering "Hot N Cold" from Katy Perry. In addition, lead guitarist Nash Overstreet looked like he could be a fourth Jonas Brother, and drummer Jamie Follese reminded me of the Hanson drummer from the "MMMBop" video. So you can probably understand why I was ready to dismiss them. However, we all know that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and the set, overall, was pretty good. Most of the time, including their Katy Perry cover, there was a pretty strong dance rock vibe, a la And Then There Were None or Cobra Starship (though it reminded me more of the former). There were a couple rock ballads halfway through the show that, accompanied by the lead vocals of Ryan Follese, brought to mind a slower song from former-Tooth & Nail group Sullivan. The only song title I caught was "I Like To Dance," which they said was from their newest album Lovesick Electric. Staying true to the song's title, it was very dancey and quite enjoyable. And in the end, I had to give Nash a little bit of credit. He ended up being a great guitarist, busting out some face melters during a couple of the songs. It was only hindered by his noticeable cockiness. But hindrances aside throughout the set, it was really good, and I wouldn't mind seeing them again sometime.
After about ten minutes for a set change, another group I had never heard of came up. When I first saw the line up on the K State website, and saw the words "Stephen Speaks," I wondered if it would actually be a speaker, or if it was a band. Turns out it was a fivepiece group that played a sort of pop country style of music. In the very first song, the opening lines made me try to figure out if it was a love song for a girl, or a worship song (it did talk about laying down his life for the unknown recipient's love, and stuff like that). In the end, when Rockwell Ripperger sang words about laying side by side and holding hands, I figured out it was for a girl. Not that I was disappointed or anything. It was just confusing at first. Per the country music standard, just about every song Stephen Speaks played was a love song, including "So Many People," "Disappear," and a song that he wrote for his brother's wedding. It was also interesting to see the line up being a little diverse. Judging from looks alone, it appeared to me that the ages of the bandmembers ranged from possibly mid-20's to a man in a suit who looked about mid-40's, and also looked like a college professor of some sort. Stereotypes aside, each bandmember did have a solid grasp of his respective instrument, and they all worked really well together. What was somewhat surprising was when he mentioned playing a song called "Out of My League." The surprising part was that many people in the crowd cheered for it in a way that would make you think that they all knew this song really well. It was a pretty good song, with an acoustic feel (guitar and beautiful piano) and some light drums. Rockwell said it had never been played live, and so it was a historical moment for the band. For not being much of a country fan, I did like the song, and I thought Stephen Speaks put on a good show. My only complaint was that it seemed like it was dragging on. If I counted right, I think they played a good forty minutes or so. But it was worth going through for the main event.
There was a much longer set change, and then Adam Young's Owl City bandmates took the stage. This included a violinist, celloist, drummer, keyboardist/guitarist and another keyboardist. The crowd's anticipation level was very high, and they erupted into loud applause and screams when Young took the stage in front of his own keyboard. The super dancey music of "Umbrella Beach" started up, and Young sounded as good as ever. Another Ocean Eyes track followed, "The Bird and the Worm," which featured Breanne Duren's background vocals (the female vocals heard throughout Ocean Eyes), and the string duo doing some synchronized dancing. After the song, Young said "hi" to the crowd, and also mentioned that he was a little under the weather that evening. Though I wouldn't have known had he not said anything, as his voice was still smooth and on top of his game. They did a couple more songs from Ocean Eyes, and then went back to an older song from Maybe I'm Dreaming called "Air Traffic." Much like the colors on that album's cover, the entire stage was covered in red and blue lights, giving it a happy and dreamy look and feel. After the song, the lights went out except for a few bright white lights shining in the air (lights that would later be shined directly in the crowd's faces, practically blinding some of us). The all-too-familiar opening to Owl City's smash hit "Fireflies" started up, and the entire audience went crazy. It was slightly disappointing to hear that, only because they have some really amazing songs, but many fans only care about the radio singles, so "Fireflies" ended up being the most anticipated song of the evening for most fans in the crowd. However, it was expected, because it's always that way. And it's not Young's fault by any means. So I'll end my rant there. Before the first chorus of the song, Young said "This one's all you guys" and stepped back from the mic while the entire crowd sang the popular chorus. And again for the last chorus of the song, which is also the last lines of the song. The music faded to ambience, with a calming blue light covering the stage, and Young picked up his guitar while the music turned into the music of Ocean Eye's worshipful moment "Meteor Shower." I was very glad to hear him perform this song live in a decidedly non-Christian environment. Though Young didn't actually say anything about Jesus during the show, it's still encouraging that he's not afraid to represent his Savior. And I liked the way they ended the song, by rocking it out instead of the album's fade out. Another Maybe I'm Dreaming song, "The Technicolor Phase," came next, followed by what Young said was a sing-along song, "The Saltwater Room." As my personal favorite Ocean Eyes song, I was psyched to hear it live, and so well-done. Breanne Duren, who sings a good portion of the song with a fantastic voice, sounded great live during her parts as well while keeping up on the keyboard. They followed it up the same way as they do on the album, with the fun and poppy "Dental Care." Another pre-Ocean Eyes song was next, the light-hearted and simply beautiful song "Hot Air Balloon." They added a touch more rock to "Cave In," as well as some extra, gorgeous violin and cello, and then flowed right into "Vanilla Twilight," which actually got more applause than I expected. Fantastic song though, and it made a great song to end with. The group left the stage for a few minutes, and I was surprised that they didn't play their other super popular song, "Hello Seattle." But then I remembered the customary encore just as they came back on stage. Young said "We do have to play just one more song," and "Hello Seattle" was the one. The song seemed to end a little earlier than usual, but they still did it perfectly and made for another great ending for their set.
For playing a smaller show with two relatively unknown bands, I was very impressed at Owl City's professionalism and enthusiasm. Though I didn't expect the group to not give their all, as they come off as really friendly and loving, it was refreshing to see that they gave it 100%. I would've loved to catch their bigger tour with Deas Vail and Lights, but it was still a great show, and one that I'm glad I got to see.-- Scott Fryberger, 1/21/10
Owl City Set List
01. Umbrella Beach
02. The Bird and the Worm
03. Tip of the Iceberg
04. On The Wing
05. Air Traffic
07. Meteor Shower
08. The Technicolor Phase
09. The Saltwater Room
10. Dental Care
11. Hot Air Balloon
12. Cave In
13. Vanilla Twilight
14. Hello Seattle
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