Dan Deacon, The Scala, London


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The Independent Culture

Whatever else he is - one-off musical alchemist, jocund beard-wearer - Baltimore's Dan Deacon is a genius of performance art. His shows are quite unlike anything else you've ever been to; not so much because of the music, good as it is, as the fresh attitude he brings.

For starters, he insists on playing at audience-level, so performs in front of the stage, underneath a home-made disco lightbox-cum-keyboard station, flanked by two drummers and a huge press of eager fans.

From there he proceeds to orchestrate 80 minutes of utter chaos, most of it audience-based. The show starts with a five-minute apology for the broken lightbulbs on his contraption. From anyone less bearishly charismatic this would be a drag, but Deacon is hilarious so it's alright. From then, still without music, we're asked to get down on one knee, point at the ceiling, and imagine our greatest moment of cowardice.  

Shenanigans like these carry on throughout. Amidst bursts of music: frenetic drum fills, along with his trademark skittering synth, Deacon directs his crowd in, among other things, individual dance-offs in the round and left-audience-vs-right-audience dance battles.

At one point he gets the whole crowd to put their hands on the heads of the people in front of them and slowly rotate en masse. At another, people who've previously downloaded his iPhone app are asked to press the 'I'm at a show' button, at which point special sine waves hidden in the next song put on a lightshow from hundreds of upraised arms.

The music is good, meanwhile, but the levels are a bit off. The drums are too high in the mix, meaning we get more of a rave than an examination of the subtleties of Deacon's skillfully layered music - at points it's hard to tell which song is which.

There's another problem. Gigs are a challenge for short people at the best of times, so when the guy is at audience-level, you tend to experience little more than the broad, sweating backs of vigorously pogoing altbros.

Fun and good-natured as the moshpit was, we had to seek higher ground simply to escape facefuls of gyrating Aztec-print. Playing amidst the crowd seems to be a relic of Deacon's underground days playing smaller venues as part of his Wham City collective; no doubt it works much better in a venue smaller than the Scala.