Going to see a Dan Deacon “concert” is impossible. His live performances defy that type of categorization. The artist hailing from Baltimore, Maryland does much more than sit on a stage and play music for you to watch. He forces engagement and interaction between attendees; he shares thoughts that could be labeled “inspirational;” and his touring troop share many of the same thought provoking qualities. As the night began to unfold at 10 pm in Club Dada it was clear everyone in attendance was in for a treat.
The first act was brought courtesy of comedian Alan Resnick with his scripted ‘improv’ stand up comedy routine. Anticipating sexually loaded drivel that often passes as humor, my expectations were set low. Three minutes into his act, after sitting on the cold concrete floor to clear the pathway for his projector, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Alan was actually a computer nerd trying to redefine human interaction by eliminating it. His newest creation is a digital avatar to send to your friends and family so that you don’t have to ever see them again. It also makes you immortal. It exactly replicates human beings – in terms of personality and physically. It only takes 5 months of Alan personally berating you in sleeping and waking to get the personality and speech pattern replication fine-tuned, but the investment is well worth the payoff. Who wants to interact with their family? His prototype is unfortunately not fully functioning yet and he has some kinks to work out before he can sort the depths of human interaction. The routine was a little spotty and had a few flat moments, but his vision is quite grand and if you get the chance to view and support his goals TAKE IT.
Chester Endersby Gwazda
Chester was the first musical performance of the night, and the most ‘normal’ 30 minutes you will experience at the touring troop’s night of fun. The two man set up was confining to his show. Once he started each song sequence on the computer, the drummer’s click track was locked into place until the end of the composition. The mix of electronics was too low, and the sound was dominated by Chester’s guitar and the drummer’s precise clanging. His music is available at a name-your-price basis on his bandcamp page. He suggested $500, but seemed like he would be understanding if you don’t end up matching that amount.
Height with Friends
After pondering the onstage performance of Height with Friends several times during and after, I am have yet to conclude if their performance was complete satire or 100% serious. Height himself was a towering figure with long wavy hair. He busted rhymes like no one’s business and threw down two a cappella songs. The most memorable moments were the violent flailing and screaming of his two backup rappers and lines about getting hyped on sugar. Their style is reminiscent of the Beastie Boys. By the end of their set there was a large group of (quite?) inebriated individuals rocking out just as hard as the band members on stage. The whole night up to this point felt like a dream. Whatever expectations of an experience the audience had going in were smashed on substituted for something much grander and totally unexpected.
The Dan Deacon Ensemble
Finally taking the stage at 12:10 am after a lot of troubleshooting of the mess of cables known as Dan Deacon’s DIY music making table, the show was really on the road. But not ride was anything but what you could expect. Dan Deacon does play live shows for you to hear his music, but for his audience to interact and be challenged… while hearing his music and dancing uncontrollably. Before a single note was played, he asked the compliant audience to get down on one knee while pointing at the spot on the beautiful (nonexistent) mural on the ceiling that represents each individual’s moment of greatest cowardice. Once the point was found, everyone redirected it toward the singular photographer in the middle of the room who was too cool to join everyone else in exploring who they truly are. Now with your cowardice cast on the poor photographer, you are finally ready to lose yourself in the cacophony of sounds and release that the music provides.
Between each set of songs Dan Deacon once again redefined how to approach his live human interaction experiment also known as a “concert.” After instructing the crowd to make a large circle in the middle of the room, he gave the rules for the Fight Club style dance off that was about to take place:
1. You have to be sassy.
2. You choose the next dancer when you are done dancing.
3. No cowards – if you are chosen you will dance.
He effectively removed all inhibition and self-consciousness that prevents people from allowing the groove of his music to grip and not let go until the song is over. The whole audience is going to participate, everyone looks a fool, why not join in on the fun?
The community created by Dan Deacon within the audience was immense. During one song he split the room into two groups for a Michael Jackson Beat It style dance off. Everyone mimicked the moves of the leader of their “gang”, and the leaders cycled. The activity simultaneously bonded everyone together and allowed for the support of and immense enjoyment for the current leader of the gang. During the single True Thrush from his most recent album America, he instructed everyone to get out their phones and launch his app. The room was transformed into an engulfing light show as the technology that so often isolates and inhibits live interaction facilitated it in a great way. For the first time I felt like my old school bar phone was insufficient.
For the song Snookered, standout from his previous album Bromst, Dan Deacon instructed the audience, with hands raised, to look to the center of the room. Once everyone took two steps forward, he had everyone lower their hands onto the head of the individual in front of them. After a brief and pleasant lecture on the interconnected nature of our lives, he instructed the giant cone of people to slowly rotate to the left. As the song built and the pace grew, the will of the individual vs the collective became clear and the cone began to slowly get smaller and smaller. The tension between each person’s desire to do their own dance and the drive of the group to maintain the beautifully spinning mass was intangible and inexplicable. When the final build of the song hit, the floor finally disintegrated into a heaving mass of individually dancing bodies.
The set closed with the B side of America, a four piece Steve Reich influenced movement of surpassing beauty. At the start of the first movement Dan Deacon gave an inspiring a-political political speech, urging people to vote regardless of party lines. Throughout his live human interaction experiment, he never forced his opinions on the audience. What he did force was thought and consideration of how we interact as humans, and he made a lot of steps to break down insignificant barriers that we so often hold on to. He stole the audience’s pointless self-conscious sense of image, if only for an hour and a half, and allowed us to enjoy the music together. He unfortunately couldn’t keep our petty differences any longer after his experiment ended.