Dan Deacon @ Richard’s on Richards, 4/26/09

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About halfway through his set at Richard’s on Richards on Sunday night, Dan Deacon requested that the audience form a wide circle around the perimeter of the dance floor. He explained that we would be playing what was essentially a massive game of duck-duck-goose, culminating in the entire audience sprinting in circles around the floor. My friend turned to me with genuine panic in his eyes—”We’re all gonna die,” he said flatly.

The circle began spinning quickly, with fans racing as if around a human plughole. Except, with nowhere to drain to, the plughole inevitably resulted in a teeming mass of bodies, moshing and dancing without any semblance of formation. I suddenly found myself face-to-face with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in four years, as we were crushed flat against the stage. My head was swimming and I saw stars as I began to imagine the next day’s headlines: “17 Die in Dan Deacon Plughole Incident.” Looking up, I realized I was inches away from Dan himself, his signature red glasses sliding down his nose and his right arm in a sling (due to a shoulder dislocation earlier this week). Beside me, a girl reached up and handed Dan a shoe, which he held high above his head as he screamed into a microphone that made him sound like a chipmunk.

It was the most surreal moment of a night full of off-the-wall weirdness and crazy audience-participation stunts. At one point, Dan cleared the floor and began a dance contest; later on, he asked fans to link arms with one another to form a human archway, while others danced their way through the tunnel of bodies; during “Snookered,” he instructed audience members to rest their hands on the heads of the people in front of them and focus on a guilty memory. It could have failed miserably if everyone hadn’t played along—but everyone did, and by the end, anyone who wasn’t dancing like a maniac looked strangely out of place.

Compared to the audience-participation experiments, the music was secondary by comparison. The songs seemed like an accompaniment to the main show—which was Dan’s crazy hijinks—rather than vice-versa. This isn’t to say that the performance was anything less than spectacular, with a thirteen-piece ensemble thrashing away at xylophones, guitars, and drum kits. The live band transformed electronica anthems into tribal rave-ups, with almost all of the instruments being performed acoustically, then filtered through Dan’s mass of effects. The backing musicians did the majority of the legwork, but it was Dan who delivered the charisma, spending much of the show with one arm stretched high above his head as if hearkening the heavens.

The show went until past curfew, meaning that there was no encore, and the venue turned on all of the house lights in order to hustle people out the door. Looking around me, everyone was bathed in sweat, matted hair pressed against their foreheads and dazed expressions in their eyes. Of the few snippets of conversion I overheard, no one seemed capable of saying anything more substantial than “Oh my God.” Oh my God—if you ever have to opportunity to see Dan Deacon live, go. But be warned: it will make every other show you’ve ever seen seem tame in comparison.
 
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