Live Music + Gig Reviews

Owl City @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

9 May 2010

The venerable Shepherd’s Bush Empire has played host to some of the biggest names in the music business over the decades. Tonight, on an overcast May evening, it hosted to a headliner hoping to join their ranks; Adam Young, a big grinning goofball more commonly known as Owl City, and a capacity crowd of hyped up teenagers.

Having braved the hordes of celebrating Chelsea FC fans, and a swathe of weekend transport closures, it was still a close call as to whether it was the fans or Young who were more excited. The mood is hardly surprising; the whole experience is so saccharine-sweet you could get a sugar rush simply by watching him smile.

There’s a distinct aura of a rabbit-in-headlights about this youngster from the backend of Minnesota, whose rise to chart success has been meteoric. Five minutes ago he was merrily tapping away in his parents’ basement as an antidote to insomnia, and now he’s a transatlantic sensation. There’s something a little ungainly about his stage presence, but it’s part of the charm that his dancing is slightly reminiscent of a geography teacher at a sixth form disco.

Nonetheless there was something rather refreshing and wholesomely innocent about it all. In an era when gigs seem to be so over-stylised they make Liberace look as up on trends as the denizens of Last Of The Summer Wine, there’s something about Young’s offering that is endearing in its simplicity. The only bells and whistles here come with the music.

There was no set to speak of, and the small lighting rig behind the stage seemed almost redundant for most of the show. It’s tough to escape the thought that, somewhere deep inside, Young is still ensconced in his basement. It’s quite possibly the secret to his success; a pity as it will completely burst the bubble when someone finally gets round to giving him a beer and telling him where babies come from.

Opening with forthcoming single Umbrella Beach, he ambled pleasingly through fan favourites including the decidedly kooky Dental Care. The crowd certainly lapped it up, although the use of Reagan’s Challenger shuttle speech would have been lost on the sea of young English faces gazing up adoringly. Fireflies of course got an outing, but not in its extended version; a pity, considering it’s his only UK single release so far.

Young seems to be prefer to keep the onstage team fairly light, with additional people hopping between keyboards, guitars and percussion plus a couple of delightful young women on strings who also do a nice line in simple yet effective choreography. However the sound quality wasn’t always fantastic, and Young’s light vocal style means he can easily get drowned out by the crowd.

The major downside of the Owl City sound and current repertoire is that it’s all pretty similar. There are a few tweaks here and there, but really nothing to give it the depth it sorely needs. The bizarre thing is that, tonight at least, this didn’t seem to matter in the slightest.

Whilst not being in the least bit sure why, it’s impossible to imagine someone not leaving an Owl City gig grinning like a halfwit who’s eaten half a kilo of liquorice. And if you’re over the standard Owl City demographic, at least you won’t be forced to queue at the bar.

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Owl City @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London