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Before I begin, I should clarify that I have a very love/hate relationship with Dan Deacon. Although I’ve always thought he has the capability to write hyperactive nuggets of pop gold, his tendencies towards extended passages of distorted noise and borderline creepy cartoon voices have consistently left me at arm’s length from his music. But seeing the goofy sentimentality that defines his music manifested live Wednesday at the Bluebird Theater in Denver brought all his disparate ideas together in a truly enthralling way.
Emerging from stage left in a cowboy hat and a green pom-pom wig, the Santa Clause-esqe Deacon set the precedent for the show by commanding audience members to look up at the ceiling, point to an area that they could identify as the greatest moment of cowardice in their life and slowly bend down on one knee to drift away from this regretful memory. It was an apt intro to what would be a night of many audience participation stunts and absurd, yet somehow poignant, celebration.
After opening with the slow builder “Of The Mountains” and surf-electro crowd favorite “The Crystal Cat,” Deacon and his band led several dancing exercises in the crowd, forming a large circle in the middle of the Bluebird for people to take turns dancing in the middle. During “Crash Jam,” he divided the venue into two sides, with a dance leader for each side, and instructed the sides to combat one another with coordinated moves.
Perhaps the most ambitious routine Deacon attempted to pull off was creating an extended human tunnel that led from the front row to the outside of the venue and back inside. It took a couple minutes for everyone to figure out what the hell was going on, and many members of the crowd simply wanted to dance along to “Guilford Avenue Bridge,” (the opening jam to Deacon’s new album “America”). But once Deacon jumped into the audience and led crowd members through the brigade, the insanity made some kind of twisted sense.
All of these activities gave the concert its own personality, but what truly lifted the night from just a fun experience to a great show was how real Deacon’s music felt. In addition to an extra keyboard fiddler, two drummers stood to either side of the stage, which truly highlighted Deacon’s talent for relentless, pounding beat making. The whole band gave Deacon’s music a texture that on record feels almost too slight; listening through headphones, the noise-blasting keyboards can all blend together to form a technicolor mush, but seeing the songs built piece-by-piece revealed their complexity.
Ultimately one of the biggest compliments I can give Dan Deacon is how surprisingly likable he was the whole evening. Between the heartfelt speeches about how intertwined we are as a collective and an encouraging shout-out to voting, I was on board with the jolly antics the entire time. In the hands of a less charismatic individual, it likely would’ve felt annoying and the participatory element might’ve come off as gimmicky, but Deacon pulled it all off with charm.
Even the visuals behind him, which included the POV of a camera strapped to a running dog’s head and the psychedelic distortions of Obama and Romney’s faces, felt perfectly tied in to the meaningful silliness of the show.
Though certain sections dragged on longer than others (the final song, a four-part suite entitled “USA” had moments of genius but didn’t capture the high hit early on in the concert), the Deacon live experience is one that’s hard not to enjoy, even for those not familiar with his work.
His unbridled optimism makes for dance music that can be challenging for those who look deeper into its construction but can easily be appreciated on a surface level. As Deacon leapt off the stage to converse with fans after the concert, a warm energy filled the room that even the most understandable criticisms of the night were folly to on such a delightful Halloween evening.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.