Only four Minnesota-based acts have reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 -- Lipps, Inc. (with "Funkytown," 1980), Prince (five times, first with "When Doves Cry" in '84 and most recently with "Cream" in '91), Next ("Too Close" in '98) and Owl City ("Fireflies" in 2009). Prince, of course, is a giant, Lipps, Inc. a one-hit wonder, and Next a two-hit memory. For Owl City, which is touring behind its debut album, the jury is still out.
Judging by Owl City's sold-out performance Saturday afternoon at the State Theatre (there was a sold-out evening concert, too), Owl City may soon fall into the one-hit wonder category. What makes Owl City -- which is actually one-man Owatonna band Adam Young -- so appealing on record is what made the concert so disappointing. The floppy-haired Young is so introvertedly innocent, unabashedly emo and downright dreamy on disc, but his lost-in-his-own-music geekiness -- OK, shyness -- was a drawback in concert.
Young, who is 23 but looks and acts like he's 18, usually sang with either his eyes closed or staring off into space. He'd do this gawky dance -- like he was a mime swimming awkwardly or a nerd trying to catch fireflies -- and often turn his back to the crowd. Backed by five musicians, including a cellist, violinist and vibraphonist, Young strapped on a guitar -- either electric or acoustic -- but barely played it. Occasionally, he'd plunk a few notes on a keyboard that didn't face the audience. In short, he did not engage the crowd while he was performing.
There was none of the electricity that had been exhibited when he'd played the Cabooze in September to a packed house of girls in their teens and early 20s. That night, he seemed lovably inexperienced. On Saturday, performing to mostly preteen and teen girls and their parents, he seemed almost bored and on auto-pilot. A couple of times, he said "tonight" and once corrected himself with "today," acknowledging the rare afternoon gig.
After mentioning his local roots, Young gave a shout-out to an elementary school teacher and his orthodontist (before the ditty "Dental Care"). A couple times in mid-song, he paused to make comments. "So tell me, how are the Twins doing?" he asked during "Technicolor." "I've been gone all year." Dude, check out the Internet; that's how you were discovered.
On the surface, Young could be the male equivalent of Taylor Swift, 20, except that he's wimpy in a becoming way; he's as passive as she is aggressive. But she cares and connects with her fans, and he seems to prefer creating music in his parents' basement and reaching out via social-networking devices.
At the State, when Young extended himself and encouraged the crowd to sing along for "Fireflies" or clap along for "Hello Seattle," he finally connected with his fan base. However, the only other time the fans seemed to give a hoot was when they screamed at the end of the main part of the 75-minute set.
For a set list, go to www.startribune.com/artcetera
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719