Dan Deacon's Energetic Set Invigorates San Francisco

Photo: Building voice. Electronic musician Dan Deacon played for an enthusastic crowd at the Great American Music Hall on Thursday, April 23, promoting his recent album 'Bromst.'
Josh Sisk/Courtesy
Building voice. Electronic musician Dan Deacon played for an enthusastic crowd at the Great American Music Hall on Thursday, April 23, promoting his recent album 'Bromst.'

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If one were to judge a Dan Deacon show strictly on its musical quality, it would certainly be a hit-or-miss prospect. Renowned for a composer-style approach to his electric brand of disco, seeing Dan Deacon live is an experience that cannot be judged strictly on its acoustic merit.

First, consider that the Baltimore-based artist is touring with his ensemble, a group of 14 traditional and electronic musicians supporting Deacon's post-Bromst tour, which included a stop last Thursday at the Great American Music Hall. Bromst is Deacon's month-old studio album, which toned down the partying of previous releases. Blending guitars and synthesizers is difficult in itself, but Deacon's stage presence, or lack thereof, complicates the whole process, given that he rarely plays in front of the audience.

Instead, Deacon plays his shows in the middle of the crowd, making his shovel-ready dance tunes even more enticing to the typical lead-footed scenester. This setup is appealing when Deacon is looping the beats, squawks and shrill riffs but claustrophobic when a legion of bespectacled, bearded and balding clones is blocking off major sections of the dance floor. The Great American Music Hall made the correct decision on keeping the music-making onstage, leaving ample room for the expression of it in the pits.

An insistence on audience participation is the other imperative part of the Dan Deacon experience. Steady touring has garnered Deacon a reputation for an inclusive attitude. Dance contests have been a staple of his shows, and the set at the Great American Music Hall was no exception. An audience split down the middle, watching two shirtless men dance gingerly across the floor, is the antithesis of the "Wall of Death" experiences at metal shows. But the two experiences are the same, engaging the spectator with the music with either violent or foppish expression. Deacon during these contests was the Judge Dredd of dancing: judge, composer and conductor.

Tunnels of love and spinning circles followed, but none of it would be possible without Dan Deacon's wonderful personality. When emcees tell "y'all to get your hands in the air" it's often half-hearted, but Deacon's charisma is so disarming and geeky that you have no option except to, as he said, put your hands up and wave them around while spinning in circles making animal sounds.

All of these extracurriculars don't seem to detract from the musical experience of Dan Deacon. Deacon's pieces ranged from the mild dance number to the hyperactive frolic. The set mixed earlier albums with this year's Bromst. While songs like "Get Older" and "Of the Mountain" showed off a bit more compositional complexity, it's impossible for Deacon to match the layering that is the trademark of his studio albums, even with a 14-man band. What's left isn't exactly bare bones but rather a beat not as full-bodied as advertised. But Deacon understands that his shows aren't for gentle foot-tapping contemplations of samples; they're for dancing. Sweaty, sweaty dancing.

Deacon's recently dislocated shoulder (he rocked a sling onstage) certainly didn't limit his ability to orchestrate the infectious music and dancing. He spun, jigged and sung with le creme of his following of human dance robots. But that nagging injury forced a boisterous, fun and engaging set to end a bit early. Hopefully the recuperation is swift and the dance contest continues.

Make animal sounds with Derek at [email protected]

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