On Wednesday night, Dan Deacon played the first stop of his upcoming tour throughout the United States, the Pacific, and Asia at The New Parish in Oakland, a gritty underground club tucked somewhere behind a collection of abandoned buildings, the City Hall, and an ice rink. The club’s facade is minimal, understated, and might be lost if you weren’t looking carefully; but upon entering, you’re embraced by the sounds, sights, and smells of the most avant-garde and unapologetic electronica music scene in the Bay Area today.
Before beginning his set, Deacon mused in his characteristically frenetic and strange style: “So…does anyone have any batteries?” It’s in Deacon’s ramblings, his overt honesty and vulnerability, that you begin to see him not only as a musician, but as an artist given to the vicissitudes of creation and emotion like anyone else. He plans his set precisely; his beats come from an iPod shuffle, and while it loops, he adds his own innovations and quirks with a collection of keyboards and knobs plugged into a power strip. It may look unorganized, but as Deacon himself would attest, there is a method to his madness.
His performance of “Paddling Ghost” drove the crowd to ecstasy and excess, with everyone perspiring, pulsing, punching, and pushing to the song’s numerous climaxes. It was here that each member of the audience became both lost and mesmerized, suspended in their own personal world, a personal experience constructed for each and every one of us. Deacon’s music is about heightening your emotions and your senses, letting the music think for you. Nothing is important as long as you feel alive.
During the xylophonic opening to “Of the Mountains”, Deacon insisted that the audience form a circle around a person chosen to lead a “modern interpretive dance piece.” The Chosen One reached her arms skyward, dropped down, then everyone catapulted upward and started moshing once more to the beats. There was life, love, and pain in the crowd’s faces. With “Crystal Cat”, there was a discourse between Deacon and the audience, his music evolving according to his creative whims, becoming a narrative. Deacon is the conductor of an all-too-tempting mayhem, depicting the human sounds of screams, hesitation, fear, and love.
He ended strongly with “Wham City”, but he created a cliff-hanger, a hunger for more. The crowd insisted on an encore, and after playing for about two minutes, he stopped, trailing off a list of excuses about how his “equipment didn’t work anymore” and also equating an encore with “finger banging on the first date.” He ended by sending a shout-out to Occupy Oakland, as he himself is a member of Occupy Musicians. Dan Deacon’s shows will always be about the experience, about his eccentricities, about telling a story. His shows both create and conjure nostalgia, as weird begets weirder, and it’s up to the crowd to decide how far they will go.