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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Noise Pop 2011: Dan Deacon Incites Mass Interpretive Dance, Brings Francis Ford Coppola to the Independent

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 8:14 AM

Dan Deacon and friends at the Indy last night
  • Dan Deacon and friends at the Indy last night
Dan Deacon

Ed Schrader's Music Beat



February 22, 2011

@ The Independent

Better than: Self-inducing an acute epileptic seizure.

Baltimore's Dan Deacon has a knack for putting together electronic things, and for blowing apart peoples' minds. It's difficult to listen to Deacon's breakthrough 2007 record Spiderman of the Rings without getting caught up in its kaleidoscope of euphoric and vertigo-inducing sound oscillators, drum machines, and vocal modulations. On record, Deacon sounds like twenty people (and three specific musical chipmunks) all trying to play laptop pop at the same time. It's all really busy, but when his crazy ideas work, those twenty people and three rodents sound like they're immersed in the greatest little jam ever.

Live, however, Deacon's the 21st century equivalent of Dick Van Dyke's one-man band in Mary Poppins.

Installing his effects rig, which looks more like an electrician's workbench, smack dab in the middle of the crowd, Deacon recreates his studio sounds all by himself, performing amidst the near constant threat of being overrun by his fans. Few beyond Deacon and conceptual cousin Girl Talk are brave enough to perform in the crowd: if I were him (which I'm not), I would live in constant fear of some drunk kid throwing up on my (his) vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt. 


The king of Baltimore DIY even lets his subjects take the throne: for his show at the Independent last night, in the first of what will be many nights of Noise Pop revelry, security let audience members go up onstage to catch the show from a higher vantage. Deacon's sense of the relationship between performer and audience might seem a little po-mo, but he and the crowd looked like they had an enormous amount of fun last night.

First came calisthenics: Deacon issued directives to the audience to perform left arm stretches, delivered with the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons. Actually, before that came an audience-interactive sound-check, capped by an impromptu dance with the crowd to Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia." "I call bullshit," said Deacon of the song's lyrics. "There's no way all that happened."

Two or three songs into the set, Deacon brought up the lights, got the crowd to form a circle, and soundtracked a dance-off. ("Rule number one: sassy as fuck. Rule number two: you pick the next competitor. Rule number three: right side of the room dances like Jurassic Park, other side dances like what you wished Avatar would be like.") He brought the crowd into the performance about every other song: an interpretive dance to "Of the Mountains" from 2009's Bromst, led by Deacon's lighting tech; introspective neighbor head-touching to start "Snookered"; a human dance gauntlet running out the venue's back door and back in its front entrance. Deacon's antics inspired nearly the entire throng to boogie around, touch one's neighbors, and willfully shuffle around the crowded floor for over an hour.


Deacon's music is, for good reason, an acquired taste. Between his arpeggiated synth loops, the grating oscillator noises, and the chipmunk choruses, it's really easy to lose one's way in the bog of sound. His show really did fall in the swamp at Coachella in 2008, when the venue's chaotic outdoor acoustics essentially rendered his set unlistenable. But despite having not played a show in almost four months, Deacon looked sharp Monday and held his set together through sporadic technical glitches and equipment swaps.

Good thing too, because it appears that Deacon had to put on a little show for his new bosses. Deacon's been tapped by Francis Ford Coppola to score his next film, Twixt Now and Sunrise, starring Val Kilmer. SF Weekly (i.e., me) actually glimpsed Mr. Kilmer at a café in Union Square on Monday. Upon reading Pitchfork's take on the matter, rumors abounded (perpetuated entirely by me) that Kilmer might show up for the Indy show. Indeed, a section on the balcony ended up being reserved, but apparently went to Coppola's production company American Zoetrope, which has been putting up Deacon in a guest house with Kilmer all week (according to Deacon). We're about 95 percent sure that the bearded fellow sitting in the corner of that reserved area early in the show was in fact none other than Mr. Coppola himself, in attendance just long enough to get a feel for Deacon's performance before heading out early. (Update: We've heard from several sources that, yes, it was indeed Coppola in the audience last night.)


It's too bad the oenophilic filmmaker didn't stay for the whole gig, because Deacon put on an electrifying show surpassing even his own high standards. The set got a usually reserved San Francisco crowd to collectively lose its shit to a bunch of little soundboxes Deacon probably built in his garage, and some audience participation gags that a fourth-grader could (and probably would) write. And I'm sure Dan didn't fault Coppola for the early exit. After all, as Mr. Deacon is just now finding out, making movies is hard work.

Critic's Notebook

Openers: Have you heard the one about how shitty parking is around Alamo Square? I have, which means I didn't get to hear Altars. The first band I caught was Oona, which combined what sounded like 1930s flappers, New Wave, and the awkward stage antics of its eponymous singer, Oona Garthwaite. Ed Schrader's Music Beat fared better: an off the wall two-piece with a literal drum and bass, with Schrader flailing on a floor tom speak-singing, while his compatriot rumbled out fuzzy bass chords. Obviously having a lot of fun, the pair also somehow evoked shadows of long retired post-punk and no wave pioneers of the past. Plus, the Baltimore-based Schrader is a Giants fan (or at least claims to be).

  • Oona
Renovations: The Independent has made some really nice changes since I last visited the venue. Restrooms have been gender-reversed (so now I'm that much closer to the men's room) and redone real classy--the piss trough in the men's room is no more. There's a good bit of woodwork in the main space that's new to me, and the club has installed some really cool red and white light fixtures that fade in and out in a pretty progression. Nice job, Indy!

Missed the set?: Don't worry! You can catch Dan Deacon and his similarly DIY opener Ed Schrader at the Rickshaw Stop tonight (Wednesday Feb. 23). Good luck finding a ticket, ye hardy souls.

Closing remarks: Deacon can't very well leave his effects table to the whims of the mob for even a few seconds, so an encore is pretty much out of the question unless he really tries to move his ever so slightly corpulent ass quickly off and back onto the dancefloor. Although Deacon didn't do an encore, he saved the best for last and brought out the magical "Crystal Cat"/"Wham City" one-two punch -- tracks two and three from Spiderman and inarguably Deacon's best-known works to date.

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Mike Orme


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