Dan Deacon, Neptune Theater, October 30, 2012 – I don’t feel like I am worthy of writing about the amazing and vast creative force that is Dan Deacon, or that I’ll be able to sufficiently capture the awesomeness of his live shows, but I’m compelled to give it a go.
I first came to know Dan Deacon back in 2008 when a friend Gabriel Mirlin suggested I go check him out at Bumbershoot that year. I had no idea what I was headed for. Gabriel just told me to trust him, that it was going to be a great show. Gabriel has very good taste in music so I went for it, by myself. The show was in a large underground room in one of the many buildings that dot the Seattle Center grounds. It was kind of like a room in a big high school that you’d play dodge ball games in occasionally.
At one end of the long room was a stage, but the “set up” was located on the floor in front of the stage instead of on it. The room quickly filled with mostly kids who sat quietly and patiently on the floor right up close to the front and waited for the show to start. How the show got started I don’t recall, but I know that I proceeded to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a show.
This initial experience of mine with Dan Deacon was completely that, experience. I hadn’t listened to any of his music before I went to the show, I just went on the faith of a friend. I did think the music was great, but what was much more impactful that first time was how fervently devoted his fans were, how much fun everyone was having, how clean the fun was and how masterfully Dan lightly orchestrated it all.
I had so good a time at that first show, that I posed pictures on Facebook, told anyone who would listen that they had to see him live, just reveled in the warm glow of the show. Amazing music, full on friendly rave scene, surprising “activities” like a relay race and a dance off. Interestingly, I didn’t immediately go out and find his music. I was happy enough to just enjoy the show. I did check out the album that I now see is him at the crossroads between goofy and serious – “Spiderman of the Rings”. It’s an album I would come back to occasionally, but only to listen to some gems like “Woody Woodpecker”. I now know it’s an amazing album, but I only dabbled at the time.
Fast forward a few years and I grab myself a copy of Bromst, cause it’s free. I dabble again. Nothing serious. Then I found out that Dan Deacon is coming back to Seattle, and I’m beside myself. I buy tickets WAY in advance. I get myself whipped up into a lather. I can’t wait to experience that pure, unadulterated fun again. I convinced a few friends that they should come, and I’m very happy to report that 3 daring people who clearly have good taste took me up on the adventure.
I tried to tell them how much fun it was going to be, shared pictures, showed them YouTube Videos, they were excited. They just didn’t understand yet. They couldn’t before they experienced it themselves.
Then “America” came out. My friend Todd listened to it before I did, and he then understood Dan at a deeper level. Cause that’s where DD went with America, a deeper level. It’s an amazing, complex, enjoyable, utterly fascinating record. It was clearly more serious record than his earlier work, although he’d started down that path with Bromst. How might that affect his live show? The first time I saw him, it was so stripped down and awesome. If he was taking his music a bit more seriously now, what would that mean for the crazy fun of his show?
I’m happy to report that DD has put a deft hand upon his live show and effectively married frivolous fun with the respect he is due for being a serious musician. Going into the show, I wondered, would he have live musicians, would he still be on the floor, was he going to “nerf” his approach and sterilize what was an organic and wonderful experience the first time?
Ok, so enough lead in. The show was amazing. With the ability to look backwards after the show ended, I realized that he had his opening bands as the projects of the members of his band that he had supporting him. In total there were 4 opening acts, all totally different and surprising. I can’t go into all of that, cause there are probably 2 – 3 other blog posts required just to talk about the weird awesomeness that was the opening acts. One of which was a 15 – 20 PowerPoint presentation about a guy and his virtual version of himself he created. It was weird and funny and awesome and unexpected.
So, I can’t write words here that can sufficiently describe the feeling one gets from a Dan Deacon show. It’s just not possible, you just have to see it for yourself. But, he did find an amazing balance between making his live show more “professional” while also maintaining that stripped-down, kid-like fun that I experienced the first time. He didn’t have his set up on the floor, he had a “electronic pulpit” for himself and one next to him for his other band member. He also had a keyboardist and a drummer.
And then, he had the “activities”. Dan is famous for them at his live shows, and it’s what I came away from the first show talking about at length. Dance offs. Relay races. The first activity at this show was that Dan asked us all to take a knee and point to this sun sculpture on the ceiling. Everyone did. All except one guy. Dan called him out, but in a nice way. Not sure if he took a knee or not. If I remember right, the first show included something like this, something that brings the crowd together and prepares the community to have a good time and respect each other.
Over the course of the rest of the show, there were a few activities, most notably the human tunnel that was created by asking the entire audience to connect hands with a neighbor and make space in front of each pair for a person to file under. It started with a dozen or so couples and then people funneled through. As each person went through, they built a pair with the another person. The tunnel built it’s way out of the Neptune, onto the street and around the building and back in. It was awesome. Rushing through a tunnel of your peers was such a simple and good time. Cheering people on outside as they went through, making your way back into the venue. Totally juvenile and totally fun. This one would have felt a bit forced if I didn’t immediately understand when I participated.
Grabbing some snaps on my cell phone while cheering people on, I even happened to randomly catch the man himself coming through his own glorious creation.
The other piece of performance art that made an impact was a point when everyone was asked to take out their cell phones, those who noticed the URL during the beginning of the show had downloaded a Dan Deacon app, or maybe they already had one. They were asked to turn the app over to the “live show” section. He did a few tests. Everyone’s phones responded in perfect unison. It was like a progression from what Arcade Fire did at Coachella a few years back with balls that were released into the crowd that had a synchronized light show embedded in them. During the song that DD played next, the phones blinked different colors, the flashlights in the phones strobbed on and off. It was a fun little addition to the show and make me wish they released the app on my Windows Phone. =(
The rest of the show was an electro dance party of the highest order. The highlight for me was ‘Wham City’ from Spiderman of the Rings. Such a fun song. He cut it short a bit, which I get, it’s an 11 minute song. It was the Saturday of Halloween weekend, so the band came out with Kiss makeup and green wigs, which made for a bit of fun. They are celebrating that with a pic of the brand pre-show on Dan Deacon’s web site.
I really can’t wait for the next time Dan comes to town, I just hope it isn’t a holiday when a lot of people are distracted doing something else, the show should have had a lot more people at it. Dan Deacon is working really hard to entertain us, to challenge us to have some good clean fun, it’s the least we can do to show up and comply. He wants to make the world a better place by spreading joy one show and one nutty fun activity at a time.