Dan Deacon Live at Great American Music Hall
Let's not forget that music can be fun, man.
Whoaoaoaaoa! Dan Deacon is fucking fun! Yeah! Dan Deacon warrants as many exclamation points as the space of this article allows!
Dear reader, if there's one thing I want you to take away from this review, it's that Dan Deacon is one big ball of fun, and you should see him live. The end. I don't have any clever metaphors or anything for you, because that stuff is the stuff of pretension, and it's pretty damn clear that when you walk into Deacon's world there's a collective agreement to leave all pretension at the door. What he does is not a secret: if you're already a follower, you pretty much know what kind of weirdfest you're getting into. But maybe I should back up and try to summarize his shtick for the uninitiated.
Dan Deacon is basically a balding guy in sweatpants, and he makes these sweet weirdo jams out of electronic toys and knobs. That's it – the end. But you have to understand that these are really goddamn catchy jams. (Check our download of Crystal Cat to get oriented – or maybe disoriented.) Co-headliner Ultimate Reality is the trippy patched-up video work of frequent collaborator Jimmy Joe Roche, featuring Deacon on musical score. The audio portion is pretty classic Deacon; the synced up video part involves a bunch of clips pieced together, then tinted with flashy colors, weird overlay and mirror / kaleidoscope effects, and strung together by an overarching Arnold Schwarzenegger motif. This is not a joke: it opens up with the part from Conan the Barbarian, where a shirtless Arnold gazes intently off into the distance before doing some badass sword tricks. His long golden locks are flowing majestically in the wind, and his muscles are rippling. This is the point where you get the vague impression that you should be gallivanting off into some rainbow forest on a trusty steed, when, on cue, a trusty steed appears on screen and does just that. Epic. And you're only one minute in.
(If it sounds like an acid trip, you're not alone – I heard the drug reference at least ten times last night, mostly by friends who had never taken acid in their lives. I guess this means that the video pretty much represents what we believe might be the best parts of an acid trip, but without that whole illegality issue. Awesome! I can die a square.)
About forty minutes and a lot of glorious Governator later, the feature ends, and Deacon sets up his precarious board of gadgets for the solo portion of his set. Now, Dan thrives on audience interaction. He talks and talks and talks and this might put some people off. At most other shows, it would put me off too. But you remember what I said about leaving your pretension at the door? This isn't a performer talking to a crowd, this is a guy talking to a room full of people who knew they were getting into one big friendly nerdy party. At the opening of his set, he leads something like a drama class stretching exercise to "get us warmed up." A few songs later he divides the room into two halves, leaving a ten foot strip down the center of the venue to facilitate a runway-style dance-off while "Snake Mistakes" plays in the background (the balcony judged which side of the room won the contest). Before another track, he sets up a human tunnel circling the edges of the venue for audience members to run through. On "Silence Like the Wind," not only does he convince the entire audience to sing along, he controls the volume of our voices by opening and closing his hand. He hands out lyrics sheets to "Wham City," his last song of the night, and the fans onstage back him like a choir.
Among a culture of people who are too cool for anything – too cool to dance or sing along or be friends with strangers at other shows – what is it about Dan Deacon that makes us sheep for his extravagant participation schemes? As far as I can tell, it's because his whole weird, goofy vibe isn't an act – the dude actually likes us. Under Deacon's watch, we are allowed to be happy people in what is, by default, a depressed and apathetic culture. What a novel concept, right?
I left with this image in my head: maybe there's a divine entity up there somewhere who distributes, to every human being, our fair allocation of "good days" in this life. And maybe there's a lottery, like any real world lottery, where the winner receives a large sum of "extra" good days, for no apparent reason except that he won the lottery and he was lucky. Leaving the show, I felt like I had won this entity's lottery. Because I can't shake the feeling that I've got a quality month lined up ahead of me.