All photos: Josh Sisk
Dan Deacon is a showman. If you have ever seen him live, you know he fucking kills it. But what I find remarkable about him, and unique to just a very few other individuals, is his ability to completely control the crowd. Performing on the floor amongst a rowdy crowd draws the apt comparison to a lion tamer with his head down the big cat’s throat-what a show, but he’s really putting it all out there, and it could all go wrong quickly.
In both cases, absolute confidence is needed.
What Deacon asks from the audience, he gets. The intensity level reaches, and in fact often surpasses, that of a punk show, but there is little aggression in the audience, and none from the performer. I don’t imagine Deacon flipping out on an audience member a la Henry Rollins, or Jay Retard any time soon.
Deacon’s ability to keep so many kids safely on the edge really impressed me. Before he got into the show proper, Deacon led a “Dan Says” game of sorts. On a psychological level, this was brilliant. He firmly, but non-confrontationally, asserted the power dynamic–you do what he says. But you do what Deacon asks mainly because you know you’ll have more fun that way.
At one point the audience was kneeling down, “as if about to be knighted,” and then asked, by Deacon, to introduce themselves to a stranger. I believe that this really headed off a lot of potential problems later, when hot, sweaty bodies would start pushing against one another. After all, it turns out the indie-tinged bro with the Boys Latin laxer hair next to me suddenly wasn’t such an asshole. He seemed polite, but more importantly, ready for the show and some fun.
Some have gone on about the neon colored naivety, lack of seriousness, and general immaturity of Wham City. But right then and there, that fat man with over sized glasses made me seriously question the conclusions of my prejudges. Deacon highlighted the sad fact that even when I’m trying to have fun, I am, in fact, a judgmental asshole.
So, on to the show that followed. It was impossible to be a detached, uninterested observer of the formal aspects of Deacon’s music–I was way too busy going ape-shit. Shows like this are akin to grueling cardio intervals, but that only adds endorphins to a brain basking in the glow of surging dopamine and serotonin brought on by music (and in my case, only music).
Again, when the level seemed impossible to maintain, or when things started to slip toward chaos, Deacon brought back the center. When he asked for space, for people to step back from his setup, he got it. It was the way he asked-like a very enthusiastic kindergarten teacher who cleverly turns every asinine command into a really cool sounding game.
For example it was never “You people need to move your sweaty-ass bodies off of me, and stop mugging for Josh’s camera!” Instead it was, “Alright now everyone is going to take five giant steps back, and let’s see how big we can make those steps. Let’s play a game–It’s called ‘Who can find the most space.’”
That kid’s teacher/performer thing isn’t all that far off the mark. The more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that Deacon is the Kinderman for the 18-30 crowd (if you grew up in Baltimore, you should remember Kinderman from Enoch Pratt afternoon shows, or any other kid’s festival. I really like this comparison. Does any one else remember Kinderman? )
This show also made me realize the complete lack of both Thanatos and Eros (to reference the Freudian) from Deacon’s music. Instead, the guiding sentiment is much closer to rave’s PLUR. In fact, that bit about introducing yourself to your neighbor reminded me of shit I was doing back in the days of Nation.
Deacon stated that this might be his last show as a solo act. Going forward he will perform with a band.
But if he keeps his approach to showmanship intact, audiences will likely still flock to see him and willingly become part of the glorious spectacle that is a Dan Deacon show.
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