Ever since ‘Fireflies’ became such a huge international hit, going quadruple-platinum and breaking all kinds of records, Adam Young – aka Owl City, aka Sky Sailing, aka Port Blue – has struggled to shrug off its long-reaching influence. The song’s bright but Emo-friendly electronica has almost become his calling card, crossing the pop-Emo borderlines with apparent ease. It’s easy to see why Young has opted to go all-in pop with his forthcoming album, The Midsummer Station, working with the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, Dr. Luke, and even Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. In his head he must still be chasing those fireflies.
As soon as he takes to the stage at Seattle’s The Triple Door, however, it’s clear that pop hits aren’t the only thing on Young’s mind. The show is billed as a sneak preview of what’s to come on the new album, and the smart, table-service venue is packed with standing-room-only fans in every available corner, all of them hoping to see their hero at close quarters – and find out what he’s been working on for the last twelve months. The answer comes as something of a surprise. If you’ve seen the video for latest single ‘Good Time’ you’d be forgiven for thinking that Young has relaunched himself as a twee, kiddie-friendly Idol icon, but on stage he’s more Emo rock than Idol pop. From the skinny jeans to the four-piece backing band, Owl City feels like a genuine pop-rock outfit.
Clearly the songs still boast the catchy hooks and electronic doodlings that have helped make his name, but the energy on stage is different to his recorded output to date, an effervescent mix of stadium-ready anthems and pop tunes drawing upon everything from New Wave to punk. Young apologizes for his inability to hit the high notes as he’s suffering from a cold, but you’d never know it from the way he launches into each and every song with frantic abandon. They burn several of the crowd favorites – including ‘Hello Seattle’ and, naturally, ‘Fireflies’ – mid-set, but that doesn’t stop the gathered faithful from hanging upon Young’s every word right up until the house lights come up. It’s possible that some of them may have lasted the entire hour-long set without breathing.
Owl City will clearly always appeal to the Emo-pop crowd, but tonight proves that there’s also a rougher edge to Young’s musical vision. Maybe it’s no coincidence that he decided to bring Hoppus on board for the new album – or that he’s previewing this material in the home of grunge. While Owl City may never have genuine beer-swilling rock credibility, it at least now has more than a single pop hit to take on the road, and a larger arena-friendly sound that should open up new avenues for the future. Maybe now Young can finally stop chasing those fireflies.