Live Review: Dan Deacon and Ultimate Reality @ Neumo’s 1/20/08

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photos and review by Jim Beckmann

How do you review a Dan Deacon show? How do you say anything in words about a purely experiential moment, one that completely overwhelms both body and mind so that any kind of faithful retelling would require a complete recreation of every detail, which, even if that were possible, would still fall miserably short of the experience of just “being there”? How could you make anyone else imagine the cleansing power of visualization through “Billy Joel of Green Day”, or singling out a stranger in the crowd through direct and then ambiguous hand gestures only to finally reject him or her, or winding through a human tunnel of your peers and emerging triumphant at the other end of the concert hall? You could try to categorize Deacon’s music and performance as equal parts absurdism, psychedelia, music therapy and rave -- perhaps calling it “psychedelic dance music” or “nerd-pop” -- though any attempt to simplify the experience would corrupt it. You might try analogy or gross exaggeration, a Hunter-esque hallucination of wolverines trapezing through the vaults of Circus Circus, but then you are merely replacing one fantasy with another.

At the very least, you might convey the enthusiasm whipped up in this truly all-ages crowd, comprised of inebriated underagers and wizened grandpas, all of whom aped Deacon’s illogical kindergarten commands: hold your fingers in the air, close your eyes, move to the far wall, form a circle, form a human tunnel, serenade the audience in the balcony. Only the photogs in the crowd, like journalistic non-combatants, resisted the call in order to capture, in their own way, some glimpse of the moment. But ultimately they too would fail.

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Far better writers have tried to convey the sensation of a Dan Deacon show, so don’t expect a detailed review here. While last Sunday’s show at Neumo’s was a far cry, spatially at least, from the last time I saw Deacon perform, which was literally in someone’s bedroom, it was exactly what I expected: the unexpected. This particular night, though, Deacon was perturbed. A particular local weekly had just given a lukewarm review to his video project, Ultimate Reality, created with fellow Baltimore area artist Jimmy Joe Roche. While it’s difficult to blame The Stranger’s Eric Grandy for not thoroughly enjoying the 40-minute, split-screen collage from the Arnold Schwarzenegger celluloid oeuvre, performed live it’s a whole other beast. Somehow, a giant impregnated Governator waddling across the screen, projected behind two frenzied drummers (Kevin O’Meara of Video Hippos and Jeremy Hyman of Ponytail), seems aptly fitting.

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For himself as much for everyone else, the night’s performance was a purge, for him a working through of the anger of rejection -- “Didn’t we put him on the list tonight?” -- which spilled into his interaction with the audience -- “This is a rough crowd. Y’all are crazy. Let’s just all take one step back.” Later, when he realized that there were far more people in the club than he imagined: “I’m sorry for trying to make you all move to the back. There are a lot more people than I thought. Let’s just forget about all of that.” Throughout it all, though, Dan Deacon remained a conductor of chaos, creating the perception of random activity and spontaneity, all the while controlling each moment of the experience. And yes, it was precisely that, an experience. You had to be there. Why weren’t you there? The next time Dan comes through your town, you better be!


Dan Deacon, Neumo’s, Seattle 1/20/08

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