Dan Deacon @ Crescent Ballroom|10/18/12
Dan Deacon's live shows are not only deafening, they're legendary. I've heard of his infamous methods of crowd participation, playing on the floor, surrounded by his fans, even using coercion to get everyone to play along. Basically, he'll unsympathetically point you out if you don't have your hands in the air. Imagine a sexy Russian spy in a skintight jumpsuit, her cleavage bursting forth, squirting a syringe of truth serum as she says, "Ve have veys of making you dance."
So I had high hopes for this Phoenix crowd, knowing our/their reputation for being a herd of standstill hipsters, arms crossed and unmoving like cattle. But Deacon was like the horse whisper, wrangling these folks like only a vaquero could, especially calling out his hatred of the cattle guard separating the underage folks from the 21+ crowd.
It's not like this back east, Deacon proclaimed. And then he started a rant about the fucked up laws in Arizona and the need for us to recognize them and fight back. He was barely through the first song, citing technical difficulties for the slow start and he was already calling the crowd to action.
His banter was hard to follow. Blame it on my inability to monitor my drinks, but an enhancement is an enhancement, just like the spectral glasses I was wearing for his weird lightshows. Everything glowed in a brilliant nine-point haze, giving this show a vivid, alternative perspective. I even held up the lenses to my camera and got a similar result, especially with that glowing skull Deacon likes so much.
But we weren't really in control. Deacon made it clear we were some sort of social experiment and the results were ourselves. He designated his own dancers, allowing them to switch off until the entire room was bouncing up and down in outlandish gusto, myself included. I jumped in place with wild exuberance and felt such freedom, but I could never explain why I felt this way. It was just wonderful. Soon afterward, Deacon ordered everyone to line up, wrap around his vegetable oil-fueled van outside in the parking lot and circle back into the Ballroom.
I took this opportunity to inhale a cigarette, feeling so out of place with my hands held in a triangle as strangers ducked beneath me, but at the same time I felt like such a larger part of a whole. By the time I went back in, the concert felt entirely changed and fresh somehow. In our absence, Deacon's beats had evolved into something entirely different and the crowd in front was dancing frantically. The stragglers, the non-dancers, the cattle, were strategically cut out.
Deacon is a genius, I thought. He's made sure that anyone that doesn't want to fully take part is pushed back to the bleachers. Yet, this wouldn't work for any other artist. I couldn't imagine even the most freakish indie band so candidly drilling a frigid audience like this, mostly because Deacon is no stranger to awkwardness. He is the epitome of "geek" and doesn't care in the least if his fans are ostracized, because he makes sure he is always ostracized himself.
So I pushed my way into the front, being shoved aside constantly and covered in more sweat then a week's worth at L.A. Fitness. A mosh pit at an eclectic electronic concert? This didn't make sense, but I didn't argue, because it was wonderful beyond belief.
Then, Deacon started into his iPhone app montage which played over "True Thrush" just like in the ad. Wham City offers a free app you can download to your Android or iPhone device and it will play the music and the lights for the show right from your palm, rather than through Crescent's soundsystem. He called his iPhone app the "most least punk rock thing we could think of," and went from there.
At first, the few folks willing to participate with their phones were all too happy to wave around their improvised lights, but soon they blinked out, one by one. The moshing was too intense for smartphones and eventually, the whole room became dark. People were just too wild to be holding up their phones. There was intense crowd-surfing, which even Deacon remarked was unusual for this particular song. But the audience's enthusiasm didn't end there.
Several hours before this show, I had been rewatching the TED Talk where Benjamin Zander speaks about the nature of being tone-deaf and his overt love for classical music. When I saw this video in 2008, I was overwhelmed with a dark emotion I have yet to be able to explain or re-experience. Zander tells his audience that everyone loves classical music, but not everyone has properly experienced it yet. His audience was an experiment and he massaged the results just right.
The same goes for Deacon. Not many folks understand the weirdo, but it seems like something you have to experience in person before you can understand it. Never mind that Deacon's vocals were drowned out beyond recognition, this concert was an experience in revolutionary composition. The same pushes and rewards were there, all the way back to Bach, Chopin or Beethoven, only they were veiled in an electronic wavelength form, signature to Deacon's style.
Even when Deacon lost momentum between songs, tending to ramble about democracy and a call to action to change our political status, he didn't lose focus on keeping his audience pushing, shoving and surfing. The strange stuff he spouted incited cheers and applause, getting so loud that Deacon couldn't even hear himself.
His paranoid, nonsensical rants were actually the best part, or at least the part that will probably stick with the audience the most. Even the points where I heavily disagreed seemed more poignant than any band I've seen try and bring a "message" to their audiences. But it wasn't always easy to listen...
"If the folks in the front will just shut the fuck up," Deacon said eventually, "I can continue."
In the end, Deacon poured into the long, cinematic and instrumental pieces that make up the latter half of his latest album, America. The audience loved even this long, flowery show of beautiful tuneage, performed by Deacon's two sets of drummers and it was perhaps what you'd call a perfect moment of bliss.
Actually, this show made me more proud of Phoenix than I've ever been. Maybe it was just Deacon manipulating the crowd just right or maybe, finally, the right folks have come out of the woodwork. Either way, you all made this a night to remember and it was absolutely stunning, so thank you, Phoenix and thank you Dan Deacon, for being the best conductor Crescent Ballroom has ever seen.
Last night: Dan Deacon, Height With Friends at Crescent Ballroom.
The Crowd: Maybe it was confirmation bias, but I saw a lot of dudes that reminded me physically of Dan Deacon. Balding men with big, square glasses like bay windows, but rarely did I see any guys with beards. Like Tourettes Guy, having a beard takes a lot of guts. Maybe you have to kill a guy to earn it.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Random Notebook Dump: Now that I think of it, Dan Deacon looks exactly like Tourettes Guy. In fact, I will go so far as to say Dan Deacon IS Tourettes Guy just because I want to see him deny it. They talk the same, they're the same height, they're both named "Danny" and they wear the same sort of weird clothes. If you're not really him, Mr. Deacon, I demand some proof!