Owl City exploded onto the scene with the success of his major label debut Ocean Eyes. Released by Universal Republic Records in July 2009, the album topped the Billboard Rock, Alternative, and Dance/Electronic charts and was certified platinum in the U.S. It also spawned the quadruple platinum hit "Fireflies," which hit #1 in 24 countries including twice in the U.S. Owl City then went on his first ever tour as the headliner and sold out shows across 4 continents, scarcely taking a break until it was time to record a new album. In the winter of 2010, the electro-pop aficionado went back into the basement where it all began and recorded his sophomore release All Things Bright and Beautiful, which was released on June 14th, 2011...The Owl City: Live from Los Angeles release comes as the All Things Bright and Beautiful World Tour draws to a close.
"The Real World"
"Swimming in Miami"
"I'll Meet You There"
"The Bird And The Worm"
"Dreams Don't Turn To Dust"
"Deer in the Headlights"
"How I Became the Sea"
"If My Heart Was A House"
Whether I like the artist or not, I always find it a bit painful going to concerts or watching concert Blu-rays of new(er) bands. For starters, they don't have much of a setlist to play with, but they also aren't as comfortable on stage. They haven't polished their content for a live experience and the overall performance isn't as smooth and fun as that of a seasoned band. Every group starts off like this. It's part of the growth process – but it doesn't always make for a great viewing experience. As much as I love John Mayer's music live, the first concert I attended of his wasn't too much fun to watch. The music was great, but the show was bland. The same goes for 'Owl City: Live from Los Angeles.' The music sounds great, but the show isn't any fun – but, just like Mayer, I'd expect Owl City's show to be completely different two years from now. As is, there's nothing going on onstage.
Unless it's a band that I love, I don't pay much attention to the artists behind the music. Until now, I thought that Owl City was a group, not just one kid's projects on his laptop. When I opened the case and read that the only name listed under the band's credits was that of Adam Young, I was worried that the whole show was going to be some tech-savvy youngster onstage with a few computer monitors. Luckily, this isn't the case. Even though they're not credited on the case, Young is accompanied by five other band members. (The case does list eight different producer types, a director, two audio credits and a packaging designer). While these other five musicians make the show possible – one plays the keyboard and offers back-up vocals, one plays the keyboard and drums, one plays the drums and a digital drum pad and two play stringed instruments – Young never gives them credit during the concert. Other bands will thank accompanying musicians by name throughout the show – not Adam Young.
The way that Young has made it into the music business could not have been possible fifteen years ago. As a shy teenager in southern Minnesota, he began making music all by himself on his computer. For fun, he put his music and videos online for the world to see. When he started getting popular on MySpace, a label took notice and signed him. The only thing about his style that changed with going mainstream was that he needed to find band members who could perform the different parts live the same way that he did on his computer mixes – that way any concerts wouldn't simply feature Young onstage with his laptop.
Nearly a decade ago I got into a small indie band called The Postal Service. Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie teamed up with a friend to make one album as The Postal Service. Their sound was completely unique. Until now, nobody even tried to replicate it, but if you've heard The Postal Service, you know that Owl City is nothing more than a poppier, more radio-friendly version of The Postal Service. From Gibbard's vocal style to the beat-driven music, Adam Young's Owl City is a blatant rip. The only thing that Young couldn't bring over from his obvious influence is the ability to add variations to his different songs.
Nearly every one of the 21 songs in the setlist sound exactly like the others. They all feature erratic and odd beats – which is fine, but none of the sounds used for the beats ever change. If Metallica used the same levels of guitar distortion, effects and tuning, the music would become highly monotonous. The same odd and repetitive beats of Owl City mixed with swelling and overpowering keyboard tones and a frequently auto-tuned vocal track makes for one long and nauseating concert experience. Another annoying factor of Owl City's show is that, despite featuring six musicians onstage, a lot of canned (pre-recorded) audio is used. For me, that's as equally a punishable offense as lip-syncing. Young even uses canned vocals during parts of songs that he could just as easily sing himself.
Just because something is popular online, it doesn't mean that it needs/deserves to go mainstream. If entertainment was determined by what got the most hits online, we'd be overrun with porn, chimpanzees smelling their own butts and kids like Chris Cocker telling us why we need to "leave Britney alone." Gibbard gave us The Postal Service, which was awesome while it lasted, so we really don't need some hack with his parent's computer recreating it in a bland message-less manner.
Sure, Owl City is catchy – it's pop music, so what do you expect – and there's nothing wrong with liking it. I'm sure that if I hadn't discovered The Postal Service at age 23 then I'd be in love with Owl City, but you can't go from eating at P.F. Chang's to Panda Express without noticing the difference.
The 21-song setlist includes "The Real World," "Cave In," "Hello Seattle," "Angels," "Swimming in Miami," "Umbrella Beach," "I'll Meet You There," "Plant Life," "Setting Sail," "The Bird and the Worm," "Lonely Lullaby," "Fireflies," "Dreams Don't Turn to Dust," "Kamikaze," "Meteor Shower," "January 28, 1986," "Galaxies," "Alligator Sky," "Deer in the Headlights," "The Yacht Club," "How I Became the Sea" and "If My Heart Was a House." Is there are reason why most of his song titles include cities, the ocean, nature and the sky?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
AEG Live and Eagle Vision Entertainment have placed 'Owl City: Live from Los Angeles' on a BD-50 in a standard blue keepcase. Visible through the inside of the case is a still from the show and a blurb about Young and his "project," Owl City. When you pop the disc out of the case, you can read some of the show's credits. Aside from a vanity reel, nothing plays before taking you to the main menu. The menu itself is a tad better than most concert Blu-rays that replay the same 30-second clip of footage over and over again – this one plays for a few minutes, switching between three different song performances. There are two ways that you can watch the concert: one, you can choose to watch it fluidly from beginning to end, or two, you can watch it with snippets of the special feature interview occasionally coming on-screen between songs. The difference between the two is four minutes. If you plan on watching the special feature interview in it's entirety, then you need not watch the interview-included version because you'll be seeing most of the interview repeated twice.
'Owl City: Live from Los Angeles' is presented with a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 live transfer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Not enough love was put into making this disc look as great as it sounds.
The first problem you'll notice in this concert is how none of the many cameras used to film the show are calibrated the same way. The quality, contrast and coloring varies from shot to shot. The one aspect that they all have in common is that the overpowering lights constantly destroy the quality. The colorful lights are bright and vibrant, but too much so. Colors are so overly saturated that whenever a band member stands in the most powerful lights, all detail is lost and the person becomes a reverse silhouette of color. More details can be seen in the black darkness behind than on the person him/herself. The lights also cause halos, bands and artifacts to appear here and there. Another camera inconsistency causes black levels slip away from the usual inky nature.
Literally, just about every shot in the movie features at least one problem. A bunch of shots feature annoying flickers of digital noise. Aliasing is almost always a constant. Very few shots hold the high quality that we expect from high-definition. Edge enhancement and DNR are not an issue.
If only the video had looked as good as the demo-worthy 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds.
The sound of the music, the between-song nature effects and the vocals are all perfectly mixed. There isn't a single complaint that anyone can have about the sound. Every instrument always audible. No sounds trumps another. And the mix employs all channels at the exact same time throughout the entire 95-minute concert.
Reaffirming my belief in Adam Young's love of nature (after all the nature-centric song titles), the evening is filled with sounds effects of birds chirping and crickets – no, I'm not saying in a mean-spirited attempt to call his music boring. The nature effects pop up from all over the room. Not just an environmental sound from the show, they are part of the well-spread mix.
The music rings out with awesome clarity. You can fine-tune your ears at any moment and hear any single instrument. If you hear the sound of an instrument that cannot be spotted on-screen, that's because it's a pre-recorded track. Music has never sounded as good as it does in this mix.
If you're a fan of Owl City, then you're going to love 'Live from Los Angeles.' Young and his band sound absolutely fantastic on-stage. He plays the hits as well as some tracks from his MySpace days. But if you're turning into a grumpy old(er) man like me, then you'll find this a dreadful experience – no matter how demo-worthy the lossless audio track is. You'll roll your eyes at the meaningless lyrics and laugh out loud when he calls one of his songs an "oldie." This is boy-band pop music made for the young emo audience and unless you fall into that category or the music appeals to you, you're going to want nothing to do with 'Owl City: Live from Los Angeles.'