Concert Review: MillionYoung at the Vagabond, February 5

photo by Michael Maryanoff

The Vagabond, Miami
Friday, February 7, 2010

Better Than: Listening to Animal Collective's "My Girls" on repeat for an hour (probably)

The Review:

Alex Diaz, the man behind the rising Coral Springs act MillionYoung, makes exquisite music for earbuds. Or laptop speakers. It's intimate, multi-textured, bittersweet, and dreamy, tailor-made for an audience of one. The tracks seem to work best if you don't pay complete attention, their unabashedly nostalgic mood triggering all kinds of Proustian associations.

Still, there's a reason why, once upon a time, most downtempo electronic music was relegated to the so-called chill-out room. It's usually best experienced blissed-out and sprawled out, when you can safely retreat back into your own head. Dance floor fare, it is not. And so Diaz had his work cut out for him with his virgin appearance at the Vagabond -- in the club's main room, no less. 

One-person acts of mostly laptop-generated music have an uphill battle in keeping a tipsy, skeptical crowd entertained. Several local artists have managed it -- Otto von Schirach and Dino Felipe, to name a couple, have done so by turning their shows into bracing pieces of performance art. Panic Bomber, while playing more orthodox dance music, has become a live favorite thanks to real-time improvisation and a unique light show. 

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Diaz hasn't quite yet managed to find his onstage identity. Though he sings live, much of the music itself is canned, played on Friday night through only a laptop and some kind of sequencer/arranger. In fact, he played the whole show with one arm in a sling, and this didn't seem to present any difficulties. Still, he tried to keep the energy level up, headbanging on the more uptempo songs, which got his sizeable crowd of adoring friends (he shouted them out) going. 

When he sang, he seemed to lose himself, going almost cross-eyed, especially on "Cynthia," which he dedicated to "a girl I miss a lot." (It was one of the best songs, so Cynthia should feel super flattered). Still, on other songs, including one whose lyrics were basically just "Ahhhh," things just kind of got ... lost. 

Maybe it was the wrong setting. It was clear that the faster, more bass-heavy songs did the best with a crowd lubed up on drink specials and waiting for some four-to-the-floor jams. Still, there is plenty of space in the songs for Diaz to develop his live show. For example, he seems to sample a lot more guitar than his peers -- maybe one day he'll play the instrument live, or at least tap out the riffs on a synth. 

The thing is, with the speed at which Internet hype now moves, the sharks are already circling for him. MillionYoung is booked solid throughout the country for the next month, including a Brooklyn showcase sponsored by Kanine Records, who snapped up Surfer Blood early on. (And this before a spate of shows at SXSW). This rapid clip is exciting for an up-and-coming musician, yes, but it doesn't give him or her much time to really figure things out. Hopefully Diaz will be able to stave off the feeding frenzy long enough to develop further as a composer and performer. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I can get down with Neon Indian, but Washed Out, Memory Tapes, and many similar artists leave me mostly emotionally unmoved.

Random Detail: At least people had the sense not to try to pole dance on those raised platforms during MillionYoung's set. Someone virtually always tries to do that at the Vagabond, no matter how inappropriate.

By the Way: MillionYoung's latest EP, Be So True, is available now as a cassette or digital download from Arcade Sound Ltd. You can still grab his Sunndreamm EP -- whose title track went down to particularly loud cheers on Friday night -- from his MySpace page.

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