Owl City with Mat Kearney
Adam Young, the electropop guru and multi-instrumentalist better known as Owl City, brought his show to the Ryman Auditorium June 13, kicking off the tour for his new album All Things Bright and Beautiful (now available). Just like the album itself, the show mixed genres and styles to great effect, creating a well-balanced body of music ripe for public consumption.
Mostly instrumental rock group Unwed Sailor opened the night with a wandering musical journey where sound took the lead on the storytelling without the assistance of spoken language. But the composite, layered sound, helmed by Oklahoma native Johnathon Ford, didn’t need any help.
The four-man ensemble found a jam-band groove and rode it for as long as the stage crew would let them. They appeared lost in their music like Alice meandering through Wonderland, and the audience gladly followed them down the rabbit hole.
The quiet chatter that rumbled between sets turned to pure elation when local favorite Mat Kearney came skipping onto the stage. Immediately taking the energy level up a few notches, Kearney launched into a set of the honest, exploring music he has become known (and loved) for producing. Between songs, he bantered with the crowd, picking out one man on the second row and telling him, “All of this that I’m doing tonight, it’s just for you. I’m just trying to impress you.”
Kearney has found his way back to touring for the first time since last year’s devastating flood, in which he lost most of his gear. And it seems fitting that the first real show with a full set of equipment would be in his hometown of Nashville.
“I filmed the video for this song just a few blocks from here,” he told the crowd, with a note of nostalgia ringing under his graceful voice. By the end of his set, Kearney had the whole crowd on their feet dancing, clapping and singing along—had they turned on the disco ball hanging above the stage, it would have been an all-out party.
After the chanting, high-energy finish of Kearney’s set, Owl City pulled a sharp U-turn that was more marked and powerful for the juxtaposition. From blackness, dim blue lights slowly emerged, growing brighter as the sound of birds chirping grew louder. The auditorium felt like a forest gradually awakening at dawn, and the first notes from Young’s guitar sounded like sunrise as the first rays crossed the horizon. The day only grew brighter from there.
The family-friendly show featured a concoction of different instruments, from strings to fabulous drum solos to a glockenspiel, all backing Young’s bouncy, sweet vocals and soothing synth rock. An air of youth pervaded the entire event, as young girls in owl-shaped hats screamed for lyrical references to textbooks and Finding Nemo. And Young, with his crisp voice, perfectly fit the ambiance.
The most powerful and touching moment of the set came near the end when Young cleared the stage and simply sat down at the piano, ditching the exhibition and focusing on the writing. It was a beautiful moment, one the audience wished to extend. But in a flash, the spirited stage show came bounding back, and lively pop took over, leading the night to an up-tempo, danceable close.