Concert Review: Dan Deacon at the Billiken Club, April 12, 2008
The difference between Dan Deacon and virtually all other avant-garde or performance art is the audience interaction. You go to see a Stan Brakhage film or get caught up watching a bizarre street performer and you just stand still, stare, and inevitably end up thinking, “Wow, this is just bizarre.” Not so at a Dan Deacon concert. Not even close.
The man and the music are definitely strange, to say the least. One look at the guy (pudgy, balding, middle-aged, with big goofy glasses, and a Goodwill wardrobe) and his stage set-up (a rat’s nest of cords and distortion boxes all covered with neon masking tape, and topped off by a glowing crystal skull), and you know you’re in for something wild.
As he’s known to do, Deacon set up his equipment on a table just in front of the stage and was quickly surrounded by audience members. After he led a brief stretching/stand up comedy routine, all the house lights were turned off and he had the crowd count down from ten like a rocket launch. When they hit zero, he pressed play on his iPod shuffle taped to a banana, and started “Okie Dokie,” his most high energy and accessible song. Madness ensued. Short of the infamous Girl Talk concert a few months back, it was the most energetic, dance-friendly, buck-wild crowd I’ve seen in St. Louis.
In case you were wondering about the iPod and the banana, here’s the explanation of how Dan Deacon “plays” a concert. The instrumental tracks of his songs are queued up on the shuffle. He presses play, then manipulates each track with pedals and distortion. He sings the lyrics through two separate microphones, looping some of the vocal tracks and adding more distortion to the other vocals. While some would rightly question whether this is a legitimate musical skill or performance, the way he’s able to keep track of what every single knob, button, and pedal do, operate his own light show, and keep his breath enough to sing while rocking out, is actually quite impressive.
Speaking of rocking out, did I mention the audience was insane? The highlight of the show was a Deacon-directed re-enactment of Stomp the Yard. After cajoling the crowd to form a large circle around an open space, he picked two goofy-looking audience members to stand in the middle. He told them to do their three to five best dance moves, then pick someone from their side of the crowd to take their place. “No cowards,” he said. “If you get picked, you have to dance.” To further fuck with everyone, he opted to play “Lion With A Shark’s Head.”
To see normally reserved twenty-something’s doing “The Worm,” Russian toe-touching, and spastic prancing to a song with lyrics like, “And now the lion's playing drums and the drums are made of dragons/ And the dragons see the tiger and the tiger turns pink/And the tiger opens a restaurant and it is very successful/And the menu is delicious and the restaurant/Is made entirely of bees,” was truly a sight to behold.
Perhaps the best example of Deacon matching his unique brand of experimental electronica with audience interaction came on his last song before the encore. He had printed out sheets of paper with the lyrics to his song, “Wham City,” which he handed out to the crowd. Soon everyone was bellowing along with Deacon, imitating his hand to the sky posture. It is really quite striking how he is able to lower everyone’s guard and get them caught up in what is essentially a run-of-the-mill bizarre piece of performance art.