Over The Weekend: Owl City, Paper Route and Hot Chelle Rae at The Venue Formerly Known As Nokia Theatre

Owl City, Paper Route, Hot Chelle Rae
Nokia Theatre Verizon Theatre, Grand Prairie
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Better than: Having my daughter hear from her middle-school friends about how totally awesome Owl City was, and how she missed the BEST SHOW EVER OMG!!!

Rarely have an artist and venue been so perfectly matched as Owl City and Verizon Theatre, known until lately as Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie. As a DC9 commenter recently pointed out, the signage is currently being changed from the name of a mobile-phone hardware maker to that of a mobile-phone service provider--guess those Luke Wilson commercials must be paying off. Not only did Owl City's pristine, non-threatening, slightly quirky emo-synth-pop sound studio-perfect in the spacious, sterile theater, but frontman Adam Young seemed perfectly at home dropping sponsor names in the mall-like setting.

"Mmm, Vitamin Water--it's so good!" he chirped after taking a sip of the caffeinated sugar water--just in case the beverage logos projected on screens along the sides of the seating area hadn't sufficiently driven home the message. 

It was all cute, safe and saccharine. But for the tween and teenage girls for whom Owl City's music is tailor-made, it was an emotional experience bordering on religious epiphany. My ears were ringing after the show--not from the music, but from the shrieking audience members.

"It was really awesome, and I want to go to another one," said my 12-year-old daughter, Iris, after the show. "I had a really fun time. The band sounded really good. They sounded almost exactly like the CD."

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They did: While Owl City started as a solo recording project, the live version was fleshed out by a drummer, two additional keyboardists and two cute girls on violin and cello--all either tight session players or skilled fakers. There were undoubtedly some pre-recorded backing tracks, as evidenced when the string girls bashed on a floor tom whose thumping beats seemed to have little correlation to the girls' playing.

Iris' favorite moment and that of the rest of the crowd, of course, was near the end of the show during Owl City's massive hit "Fireflies," when she and her friend danced and sang along with the selfless abandon so rare during those difficult pre-teen and early teen years.

Whether he is aware of his audience's age or he just hasn't outgrown that awkwardness himself, the semi-reclusive Adam Young--who wrote and recorded as Owl City in his parents' basement until success forced him out on the road--seemed to relate well to them. His stage banter struck a fine balance between talking to the crowd as peers and affecting the sweet, fun-loving nature of a children's entertainer. "OK, we have kind of a silly song--it makes me want to clap my hands and be silly!" he enthused at one point. He was endearing to an almost annoying degree, asking Dallas how it was doing between every song and telling Chuck Norris jokes on the (mistaken) pretext that the meme-inspiring martial-arts action star was from the Big D. This led to the oddest moment of the show. After a triumphant, sing-along take on his big hit single, Young was so overcome with excitement that he exclaimed, "Chuck Norris is so tough he blows bubbles with beef jerky!" Then, as the audience was still chuckling, he began playing a very somber piano song and cued up Ronald Reagan's speech about the Challenger space shuttle disaster. It was perhaps the most dramatic momentum-killing, slam-on-the-brakes moment I've ever witnessed at a show.

But drama is what those pre-teen and teen years are all about. And with lines like "It takes two to whisper quietly" and "...the spaces between my fingers / are right where yours fit perfectly" from "Vanilla Twilight," Owl City captures the turbulent, overblown emotions of that hormone-drenched age group perfectly.

By the way: Opener Hot Chelle Rae sounded exactly like the band members look in their publicity shots, all breathy, sincere vocals over emo-lite rock guitars. The crowd (including my daughter, who shrugged them off with an indifferent "They're OK") seemed pretty unimpressed until their cover of "Hot N Cold" (by pop-bot Katy Perry) injected some energy. "Oh, I love this song!" Iris exclaimed during the opening notes; their dance-punk single "I Like To Dance" continued the momentum. Middle act Paper Route, who blended ambient electronica textures with heavy percussion (with as many as three band members pounding out beats at times) and multi-instrumentalists switching gear mid-song, was by far the most interesting act on the bill. They'd be worth checking out next time they come through town--especially if they're not part of a mall-pop bill. According to my daughter and her friend, though, they were "too loud."

Random note: Owl City singer Adam Young claimed to have had the best hot dogs in his life in Dallas. "I didn't know Dallas was known for its hot dogs," said a dude in the merch line after the show. Neither did I.

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