Owl City w/ Lights at The Fillmore

Published on April 12th, 2010 by

A lot of thought went into this review. A lot more thought than you would think. Last summer, when I first heard Fireflies, I tossed Owl City aside as a Postal Service wanna-be. Chona’s YouTube video and Chris Walla’s recent tweet summed it all up with a bow, “Owl City should consider buying Ben a Pony.” So how did I end up at a sold-out Owl City show?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Lights’ PR folks asking if I’d like a pair of tickets and a photo pass to the show. As a blogger, I’m inundated with mp3’s and press releases, but as a photographer, I’m rarely courted with offers for photo passes out of the blue. I love shooting at the Fillmore, and I really do try to keep an open mind, so I agreed, even though I felt a little part of my indie-ness crumble away. A dozen of my twitter followers dropped me like a hot potato after tweeting I was going to shoot No Doubt last year. What would my followers think of my shooting this tween pop extravaganza? I decided to keep my status to myself rather than find out.

I just couldn’t face the tween masses by myself, so I convinced a friend to accompany me. She did think twice before saying yes when she heard that the show started at six-thirty. I joked with my Facebook friends that the show had such an early start-date so that all the young kiddies could be tucked in bed by their 9:30 curfew. The crazy thing was, that the moment we set foot in the venue, I realized my snide joke was the literal truth.

The bench seats that flank the sides of the floor of the Fillmore were filled with aging parents and grandparents, their young charges within arms reach. Many of these kiddies weren’t even old enough to qualify as tweens. I polled several parents and found that these excited young Owl City fans were seven and eight years old! The Fillmore is incredibly strict about their photo policy, so I could only photograph from the pit, but the shot that I wish I could have captured was the two nine year old girls giving each other piggyback rides in front of the granny with a walker.

Owl City Fans + Bouncer at The Fillmore

OK, enough about the crazy young crowd. On to the music. We arrived at the venue at 7pm, having just missed the openers, Paper Route.

lights-2.jpg Next up was Lights, a Laptop bedroom pop outfit turned three-piece for touring purposes. Having lived through the 80’s I was brought back to that time again. Her persona and sound was a sweet-n-poppy cross between Laura Branagan and Ashlee Simpson. As with the headliners, a bit too American Idol mainstream for this Andrew Bird-loving-indie Gen-x’er. But I am clearly not the target audience, and everyone else in the crowd was completely delighted by the three piece’s performance. It’s not hard to see the appeal. Lights has a beautiful voice, and she clearly loved playing in San Francisco at the Fillmore to such a warm and welcoming crowd. I did have a good laugh when she played a pared down, “Pretend.” The lyrics go, “Once in a while I act like a child to feel like a kid again”. A kid again? As any 40-something aging hipster mom such as myself knows, she *is still* just a kid.

At 8pm sharp, Owl City took to the stage.

Owl City lists Jesus Christ and The Album Leaf as influences. I’m not sure how Jesus figures into the current performance, but the influence of The Album Leaf’s recent move to a live-instantiation-of-a-plethora-of-instruments instead of laptop-loops was clearly evident. I was completely surprised by the quantity of musicians; A drummer, two percussionists, a keyboard player, a cello, violin, and Mr Owl City himself, Adam Young. For someone who claims to make music alone in his basement at night, that’s a huge touring line-up.

When Owl City last played San Francisco, it was last July at Pop Scene, 5 days before their official album release. Just two musicians, two keyboards and a laptop. The club held 150, and wasn’t close to sold out, more people showed up for the dancing after the show. What a difference nine months, a hit single, and over 1 million in album sales makes!


There was lots of stage presence, bang flipping, and general youthful testosterone-free exuberance. I credit Adam Young with taking the best of many indie touring bands and smooshing the best bits together in a vibrant and energetic live show. There was a quite sophisticated stage setup, with the entire center area of the stage hollowed out for Adam’s dancing and spinning. I just wish there was more originality to the music, and more content to the lyrics. I expect a sing like, “Dental Care” on a Raffi album, not on a Billboard Top 40 album. And perhaps I’m just thinking too much, but you claim you’ve been to the dentist 1,000 times in the 23 years that you’ve been here on the slowly-spinning planet earth? Mr Young, you must have some serious dental issues! That’s an average of once a week, every week since you were born.

But again, I’m the first to admit, I’m definitely not this act’s target audience. Who am I to tell a 7 or 11 year old what music they should or shouldn’t like? My musical obsession when I was that age was the dreamy Shaun Cassidy. My mom and dad took my sister and me to see him perform live when I was nine.

Last Tuesday night at the Fillmore, these young boys and girls were joyfully singing along with Owl City and Lights, in blissful harmony. I could be all hipster-pissy and say many mean things, or I can view this bizarre reality from another perspective and point out that Owl City and Lights put on a well-crafted well-received live show, one that parents and young kids could enjoy together. It’s all the Postal Service’s fault.

[Owl City at The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA April 5th, 2010]

View The full set of Owl City images on Flickr

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View The full set of Lights images on Flickr
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