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Setting up shop on stage Monday night behind a neon tape-covered table of gadgetry and next to his ubiquitous sidekick, a glowing green skull raised like an effigy atop a metal pole, Dan Deacon stepped into a non-traditional frontman’s role. Not content with simply running through a set of his loopy, structurally complicated but always joyful electro-pop jams, Deacon made a point of involving the crowd in the creation of his music, both vocally and physically. Whether instructing audience members to hum along with the music, manipulating the shape of their mouths in accordance with the opening and closing of his fingers, or staging a dance contest between the two halves of the crowd, Deacon waved both his 14-piece Ensemble and a nearly packed crowd through a succession of musical happenings that more closely resembled performance art pieces than your garden-variety concert experience. At every turn the crowd was happy to comply with its leader’s commands, whether that meant participating in a group interpretive dance led by a shirtless member of the audience or wriggling through a “dance gauntlet” that snaked its way around the room.
Mostly playing music from his most recent album, 2009’s Bromst, the Baltimore native accomplished a feat that can prove difficult for experimental artists to pull off: the ability to stretch one’s tolerance for abstract sound while inspiring the type of vertical bouncing and fist-pumping usually found at a Journey cover band show. In this contradiction lies Deacon’s brilliance, though, because the theatricality that supplements the music does not read as attempted irony. Deacon closed the show with “Wham City” (the clincher of Spiderman of the Rings) as his entire band and touring crew fell off the stage to surf the sea of upraised arms. Left alone onstage, sweating through a one-piece painter’s suit and tinkering earnestly with his buttons and knobs, Deacon cut the figure of a mad scientist in a lab whose product inarguably transformed the world into a far better place to be.
The entire show was recorded and is available for streaming at NPR Music.