Live Review

Alex Schaaf

Girl Talk was exhausting. In a good way, of course, but he pretty much wiped me out. Then I remembered I had tickets to go see Dan Deacon the very next night, who is known to put on shows just as crazy as the aforementioned sample wizard, and I didn’t know if I would be able to make it. But beyond my biggest expectations, Deacon was well worth the energy.
Dan Deacon is from Baltimore, and the best way I could describe him, especially to someone who was at the Big Event, is to say that Dan Deacon is the “nerdy, cartoonish version of Girl Talk, playing his own music instead of samples.”
Deacon has been playing shows by himself for the last few years, hunched over a table covered with electronics in the middle of the crowd, sending out heart-thumping beats underneath chipmunk falsettos. He uses voice manipulators to pitch his voice up an octave or two, which leads to the Mickey Mouse falsetto that is a big part of his reputation.
For this tour, however, Deacon is using a 15-piece ensemble of skilled musicians – a big step for the previously solo musician. And to add to the changes, at the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee where I saw him last week, he performed from the stage, rather than from the floor where the crowd usually surrounds him.
He had good reason, however, as a separated shoulder forced him to be a bit more careful. Some in the crowd voiced their displeasure with this change, to which Deacon quickly answered, “I’ll do whatever the f*** I want to do!” to great cheers from the more understanding audience members.
The show presented most of the tracks from Deacon’s new album, “Bromst,” which came out earlier this year. The songs feature more instrumentation and variation than his last album, the breakout hit “Spiderman of the Rings” from 2007.
But as many who have seen Deacon will tell you, the real story was beyond the music. Deacon is the quintessential performer, in that he strives to create a real sense of community and group spirit in the short time he is allotted to share with the crowd. He is famous for his crowd participation activities, and they were in full form at the Milwaukee show.
He started by having everyone in the audience spread out so that they had room to dance, rather than being crammed up in the front. Then he gave them a series of coordinated movements to perform, such as kneeling on the ground with one arm raised. At one point he had audience members put their hands up as high as possible and then directed everyone to surround the tallest person in the room, draping hands over the heads of strangers to create a sort of human web.
After getting the entire audience to run around in one giant circle in front of him, Deacon’s best stunt came when he got the crowd to form, over the course of several minutes, a human tunnel – a “London Bridge” type maneuver that took the audience outside the building while the band was playing, only bringing them sprinting back in to rejoin the fun.
Because of “stunts” like these, Deacon created a night that went beyond his music, and served to create bonds between complete strangers. These types of activities are what we’ll remember for months to come, and combined with the brilliant and powerful music emanating from the stage, Dan Deacon is not going to be easily forgotten.