Friday, September 7, 2012

Dan Deacon's antics pull concertgoers into his twisted little circle...

Baltimore electronic composer Dan Deacon, right, howls at the moon with the help of Chester Endersby Gwazda.

Dan Deacon is very odd, but does things that are oddly awesome.  In his Pitchfork interview, he takes on agriculture giant Monsanto and gets serious about conspiracy. His latest album is called America, but has nothing to do with politics. In place of  "Stars and Stripes Forever," Deacon instead unleashes his patented brand of heavy driving electronica. But in a live setting, he brings it in a way most other artists can only dream of.

His show is based around taking crowd participation to a whole new level. His first instruction to the crowd as soon as he came out was for everyone to get down on one knee, point to the ceiling, and recite some lines about a diary he found written in the voice of Austin Powers. It only gets better from there.

After a couple songs, he asks the audience to fan out and create a circle in the center of the room and picks two audience members to enter. They start dancing for awhile, until they pick two more people to join in. These four pick four more, and so forth, until the whole room is kicking it. It worked to terrific effect other than a few bros who wanted to treat it like a mosh pit, but those antics quickly died down. Later, he split the crowd down the center of the room and appointed a dance leader who would start dancing and everyone else was tasked with emulating them. Eventually a lucky crowd member would take their spot. It's like Just Dance 3 for the Wii, but minus those darn clunky motion controls.

Musically speaking, Deacon approaches electronica with the subtlety of a thrash metal musician. His ensemble consists of two highly technical drummers for maximum percussive effect, while his compositions themselves consist of heavy, raging breakdowns and buzzing digitized rave riffs, and he spares no expense in doing it. Just look at his keyboard:

Snip the wrong wire and a bomb goes off.

Watching him hook it up is like watching Ralphie's dad from A Christmas Story hooking a hundred extension cables together to get their Christmas tree to light up. He does attempt vocals, but it's more like background coloring.

Unfortunately, the Dan Deacon app did not work as well as expected. Prior to the show Deacon had been spreading the word about an app that would allow your phone to light up different colors and become a part of the show. A sound wave was sent to your phone that was supposed to activate the app, but Deacon explained they were still working out kinks in the system. "It's a flaw in the system but it's also the beauty of the system, which is why flaws are beautiful," he put it.

It worked for many of the phones in the audience, as each screen shifted through a spectrum of color and the camera light started lighting up. No dice though for my Samsung Fascinate.

Perhaps what's so engaging about Deacon's live act is how it forces you out of your comfort zone. And you build a camaraderie with the crowd around you, especially considering you may find yourself in rather close contact with them at some point in the night.  He does, however, keep on eye on safety, making sure things don't get too out of control. Be sensible, but trust Deacon because he knows what he's doing. If you fully buy into what he offers, you'll have an experience you really can't get anywhere else.

Dan Deacon's dance off circle

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