So I’ll be totally honest here, prior to today I have never listened to Dan Deacon. I know admitting a complete lack of knowledge is everything music writers do their best to avoid; I’ll just throw it out there. Day of the show a chance presented itself to attend for free, and like any music enthusiast I jumped at the chance, but without really knowing what I was getting into.
Entering the show I did have some extremely basic ideas of what Deacon was about. He is from Baltimore, he has notoriously rowdy performances (they actually shut his set down at Pitchfork Festival in 2007), and his music is “weird”. Besides that, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
The night was the launch of a new show feature for Deacon, a performer widely respected for involving the crowd in the overall experience. Anybody who had a smart phone in the audience was instructed to download a Dan Deacon app that would allow audience members to hold their phones in the air, synchronizing a light show that flowed throughout the crowd. Deacon explained before the piece that when the Wright brothers attempted to fly for the first time it probably drew a lot of attention, but likely ended in failure and “a brother dying and another losing all their blood” before they actually succeeded. He warned that the interactive app was a work in progress, and just like the Wright brothers, would probably fail on the first few attempts.
As soon as the first vocal chops soared through the crowd and a few phones here and there flashed in unison, the song was over, and so was the app experience. Not a complete failure, but it could use a fair bit (note: a lot) of fine-tuning. It was very cool in theory, but where Deacon attempted to reach into a new century of connectivity and stumbled, he just fell back to his strengths and put on one hell of a live show.
As a newcomer to his music, Deacon performs a balancing act between sonically displeasing, almost annoying loops, and catchy, dance-able groves. Artists like Aphex Twin or Animal Collective perform a similar act, toying with the boundaries of abrasive and enjoyable, somehow creating something ultimately engaging. Deacon sort of sounds like if you played every song on your iPod at once, except arranged in an unusually pleasing manner.
After about three songs he decided there was a need for an icebreaker in the audience. He cleared a circle in the crowd and called two members into the middle, stating that once the song started they had to dance, he didn’t care how or what they did as long as they danced. When they were done they had to grab two more people who would then dance, and then grab two more people until it was one big mess of dancing. Turns out it works extremely well, and throughout the whole show these small “activities” allowed for a fun, and hyper connected concert viewing experience.
Although I can’t go into details on specific songs or a set list, I am aware that the closing segment was a 15-minute marathon stringing together the last few songs on his most recent America release. It was a grand, sweeping finale, ramping up intensity for what seemed like an eternity, before breaking free and falling into a final roar from the audience.
For an artist who orchestrates music that would classify him as an outsider, it is incredible that Dan Deacon is able to create such an inviting atmosphere in the live setting. Even though the much buzzed about app didn’t wow like it could have, his quirky and inviting personality mixed with a straight up fun audience experience made for a memorable show anyway, probably better than if the app would have succeeded. His music didn’t strike me at first, but after the live show, he’s gained another fan, anxiously waiting for his next live tour.