Dan Deacon, 10/18/12, Crescent Ballroom
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.