Live Music + Gig Reviews

Dan Deacon @ Scala, London

6 February 2020

Dan Deacon

Dan Deacon (Photo: Frank Hamilton)

Baltimore musician Dan Deacon has gained a reputation for playing gigs that don’t really follow standard live music norms. Tonight’s show at the Scala in support of his excellent latest album Mystic Familiar saw him enhance this view in hugely enjoyable fashion.

Support came from Lone Taxidermist (artist Natalie Sharp) whose mix of pounding techno, mangled bass, wonky electronics and comical/scary vocals makes a lasting impression. It feels like Gazelle Twin (someone she’s worked with in the past) taken to the next level. “I wish they played Throbbing Gristle at Pilates” she intones over clattering rhythms. Don’t we all.

Regular gigs usually involve the artist launching straight into a song after taking to the stage but Dan Deacon disregards such conventional practices, preferring to begin his set by sharing two lengthy and entertaining anecdotes, the first about his thoughts on the movie Cats and the second about his last show in London a few years ago when several members of the crowd had their phones stolen by a serial pickpocket.

When he eventually gets around to playing music he begins with Become A Mountain from the new album, all glistening synthesiser arpeggios, dancing notes and dynamic uplifts. Later, another album highlight, Sat By A Tree shows itself to be one of Deacon’s most carbonated, electro-infused pop songs to date. The early stages also see older song The Crystal Cat played, a reminder of the rawness of his early days (later we get Wham City, also from his 2007’s Spiderman Of The Rings album).

The first of several audience participation moments arrives with Change Your Life (You Can Do It) during which Deacon gets the crowd to clear a circle in the centre of the venue which becomes the space for a dance-off, participants throwing shapes before choosing someone to replace them. Fell Into An Ocean may be one of his most precisely pulsing, transparent songs but we’re too busy joining in with the second mass dance exercise of the night to fully take in its finer points, this time the crowd divided into two and instructed to replicate the dance actions of a nominated person. It’s roughly at this point that we decide that all gigs should involve this amount of fun.

Next up is the four song Arp suite, the centrepiece from Mystic Familiar. It’s a demonstration of his ability to harness excess and velocity to make gloriously overloaded, kaleidoscopic music. It also sees visceral sax skronk join the synth circuitry manipulation. At one point a microphone blows out under the relentless pressure. It’s all thrillingly high intensity stuff, an exciting journey along electronic superhighways of melodic sound.

The audience interaction continues. Feel The Lightning soundtracks a ‘wall of life’, the crowd again divided in two before a giant high-five session ensues in the middle. Learning To Relax sees him encourage people to pair up and join hands to form an ever-growing human tunnel by which people eventually exit the venue. Reading about it in the cold light of day may make it sound gimmicky or forced but while in the middle of the action it’s hard not to be swept away along. On a dark winter’s night in January Dan Deacon delivered a glowing musical rainbow of a gig to an enthusiastic crowd of co-performers. After this, regular shows are unlikely to be enough.

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