It sets the bar pretty high when you open a show by blaring ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in its entirety, set to pulsating strobe lights. And it should undercut any anticipation you might have created when, upon finally taking the stage, you set things into motion with a near ten minute monologue, guiding the audience through a cultish repeat-after-me exercise, while we’re all on our knees, with our eyes closed, pointing at randomly selected would-be loved ones (because it is, after all, Valentine’s Day). But this is Dan Deacon, a man who, for all the fuss made of his ‘move to the stage’ after gaining his reputation as master of goofy anarchy by performing as a member of his own audiences, still puts on one of the most genuinely eccentric stage shows touring today.
Your reaction to a show like this probably depends heavily on expectation; if you knew about and were pumped for his antics, then being led around the outside of the building by Deacon as a Pied Piper while two drummers remain inside playing a blistering break to the remaining audience, which is now approximately a fifth in size of its original capacity (yes, this actually happened), would’ve ticked all your boxes. But if you’re more about the music (and a significant proportion of the crowd may well be newcomers seduced by the more orchestral and matured offerings of Deacon’s most recent album, America) then the concept of continual interruptions for dance contests drawing the set out to an arguably needless and over-padded two hours, could easily infuriate.
Tonight, however, the audience is thoroughly on side. And that’s probably because for every potentially gimmicky (but wholly joy inducing) stunt like getting the crowd to download a bespoke app to turn the audience into a real time lightshow of strobes I didn’t even know smart phones were capable of, the music frequently rises to substantiate the frivolity. The statelier compositional ambitions of the newer material tonight – the America suite in particular – is in no sense less dance friendly or less joyous than the more straight-up ‘silly’ early material, and indeed its ornate detail and development only adds to its engrossing power. And as the suite’s recurring motif soars out of the anarchic and hyperactive bombast with regal pomp – it’s a sincerely spiriting moment of intensity and uplift, increasing in effect with each recurrence.
And it’s for this reason that Dan Deacon succeeds in justifying his eccentricities and digressions, while never becoming so self-serious in his music that his playful interactions seem out of place. Taken as a purely musical entity, it can admittedly be an occasionally repetitive and overly dense mixture, in spite of its frequent high points. But as an overall live experience, Dan Deacon’s show is truly singular, offering an interactive and collective experience determined to draw in even the most cynical back-of-the-hall head bobbing pint sippers. Be willing to enter into the spirit of his approach, and it’s an evening like little else.