Last Night: Dan Deacon at Walter's on Washington

Dan Deacon
Walter’s on Washington
September 24, 2007

Better Than: Just about anything else you might find yourself doing at 10:30 p.m. on a Monday.

Download: “The Crystal Cat,” from Deacon’s Myspace Page. Along with several other songs (not available for download) and a bunch of immensely entertaining videos, this should prepare you for Deacon’s live and interactive spectacle. If you pay attention, you’ll also find links to a whole shitload of free tracks from his back catalogue.

I don’t dance. I pretty much never have. For this reason, I’m probably about the least likely person you’d expect to find at a Dan Deacon performance. The man’s shows are lightning rods for pale, ungainly hipster geeks who really can’t dance (like me), yet (unlike me) desperately long to shake their junk.

Fortunately for the uncoordinated booty-shakers in Deacon’s fan base, not only is dancing like a crack-addled cyber-monkey acceptable, it’s almost de rigueur. Hunched over a wonderful, mad scientist array of electronics, Deacon himself bounces about crazily, while actively inciting others to do the same. At one show, he apparently threatened to have the bouncers toss anyone who stood on the sidelines. Fortunately for me, this time around he decided not to take such a hard line with those of us merely bouncing lightly from foot to foot at the edge of the crowd.

If anyone in the room had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into, the last minute sound-check was probably a good indicator. No standard, business-like sound check could ever possibly suffice for a man like Dan Deacon. Something more is required, even for something as simple and perfunctory as sound check. In this case, the paradigm shift came through a crustacean. Sebastian the crab, to be exact. That’s right; at ear-shattering volume, Dan Deacon checked levels and equipment with “Under the Sea” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. As the crowd began to get into it, Deacon asked, “Are you digging that shit? Can you hear Sebastian’s tenor cutting through like a hot knife in butter?”

Before starting the set proper, Deacon warned the audience that “there might be some moments where you feel really stoned.” The first of these moments was not far off. Launching into the stuttering and pulsing cacophony of “Build Voice,” a new song he’s trying out, Deacon pounded out so much nearly subliminal bass that fuzzy sonic waves washed ticklingly over my entire body, like THC static cling. Overall, the song sounded like Belle and Sebastian’s “Electronic Renaissance” played double-time by Daniel Johnston.

About halfway through the set, Deacon asked for the house lights, and began organizing the audience into what can only be referred to as a hipster-indietronica-line-dance rendering of the hokey pokey. While somewhat charming in concept, it took a full ten to 15 minutes to implement, contributing to a lingering feeling of brevity. The song chosen for this fiasco, “Ohio,” featured what sounded like the canned mambo beat from Deacon’s cheap keyboard, overlaid with choppy electro-organ and a Talking Heads’77-era Talking Heads feel, complete with wacky David Byrne-esque vocal stylings.

Toward the end of the set, Deacon appeased his fans by playing crowd favorite “Wham City,” a sprawling ode to his former artist collective residence of the same name. For eleven minutes of humming, plinking, throbbing electro insanity, the crowed convulsed and shouted along, with as much childlike glee as a pack of five-year-olds at a Dora the Explorer concert. It was like the entire audience was turned into the Polyphonic Spree.

This sort of sing-along, play-along carnival mentality permeated the entire show, and actually felt quite at home in Houston’s now smoke-free bar environment. I can’t imagine the tent-revival, youth-ministry-gone-awry motif would work particularly well if attempted in a nicotine-clouded room. Although it would’ve made the trippy green skull strobe light look pretty wicked. By the way, have you ever noticed how freakin’ cool ceiling fans look with a strobe light flashing? – Nicholas L. Hall

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: As mentioned previously, I couldn’t dance if Bart Simpson shot me with a go-go ray. This may affect my ability to fully enjoy Dan Deacon live.

Random Detail: Among the many inept dancers was a pair in black who clearly thought themselves the hipster version of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. When they weren’t dirty dancing on the speaker cabinets, they kept elbowing everyone. Thanks, guys.

By the Way: The dirge-like trance of “This Dust Makes That Mud,” the last track on The Liars’ They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top, makes for a wonderfully sedative come-down from Deacon’s future-shock frenzy. I was fortunate enough to have that accidentally cued up when I got in the car. (The Liars support Interpol tonight at Verizon.)

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