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November 11, 2012 - 11:17pm

Dan Deacon made strange requests at the Magic Stick



Dan Deacon posted a rather ominous status Thursday night: “Detroit! I’m playing the Magic Stick tonight! Help us fill this massive vacuous space!”

I pictured a room with a handful of overgrown hipsters aching to dance but too self-conscious to do so in the unpopulated room. But once I actually got to the Magic Stick, it became clear that would not be the case — Dan Deacon would never let that happen.

The show kicked off with “Bohemian Rhapsody” blaring on the speakers, which served as a nice way to gauge approximately how drunk the crowd was. Deacon arrived on stage donning a purple and orange sparkly hat and his semi-iconic glasses on his head and a metal box exploding with tangles of multicolored wires in his hands.

He began the show with a request — raise your left hand, get down on your knees and point. More specifically, point at the rustiest, filthiest, carcinogenic-est nail on the ceiling that you can find — the one most covered with dusty dead skin cells of past bands. But it turned out I Spy was just the warm-up to a night of bizarre audience participation.

After an unusual amount of talking time, Deacon kicked off with “Of the Mountains” from his 2009 album, Bromst. Next, he delivered “The Crystal Cat,” a hyperactive jam that I was expecting to come out as an encore. There was a decent amount of hopping around in the crowd, but Deacon, apparently not satisfied, paused the music and commanded us to form a circle.

He ordered a man in a mustard costume and a woman dressed as a cat (Dan Deacon fans, man) to get in the middle of the circle and dance for 10 seconds. After those 10 seconds, they were to pick new people to join the circle, and so on. It was surprisingly not awkward to watch at all, and I found myself wanting to be dragged into the circle even though minutes earlier my dancing had been limited to stiff shuffling.

Deacon cued that the dance circle was ending, after which everyone somehow knew to spontaneously rush the center. The floors of the Magic Stick were practically bowing beneath our weight and before I knew it, I was amid a moshing frenzy, struggling to keep my glasses from being accidentally elbowed into my eyeballs.

Deacon continued to slaughter our eardrums (in a good way!) for a few more minutes, then decided to try a new exercise. The crowd was divided in half. Each half was given a leader (one of them being Dan’s brother), and each half was to imitate the interpretive dance that the leader performed. A great idea, but unfortunately my side lacked coordination skills. Eventually I just started doing the other half’s dance, which involved jumping up and down simultaneously and looked AWESOME, especially when done to the manic tunes of Dan Deacon.

After we reconvened, Deacon played some songs from his newest album, America, and then it was time for some more audience friend-making. We were told to turn to the center of the room and put our hands on the head of the people in front of us and close our eyes. I rested my hands on unidentified slimy strings of hair in front of me, closing my eyes and becoming particularly aware of the sweat drops beelining down my face. It was then that Dan asked us to consider that everything we do affects at least one other person.

Then we got in a massive circle encompassing the entire upstairs of the Magic Stick—all the way to the bar — and one person was designated to run clockwise, high-fiving us all to the song “Guilford Avenue Bridge” from America. He pulled a person in, and that person pulled a person in and so on, until the room was a cycling mass of frolicking bodies. I accidentally stepped on a girl’s shoelace though so “Guildford Avenue Bridge” will now always me of that the time I almost killed someone at a Dan Deacon concert.

But, of course, this particular tour is for the album America, and although these dancing/sprinting/pointing at nails exercises were fun as hell, it wasn’t until the end of the concert when things really got American. Displayed on a giant screen behind Deacon included images of the West, of American flags spiced into what looked like family photos and the faces of Obama and Romney zooming toward the audience until it was just their eyes.

Dan played “True Thrush” — his giddiest track off America — then added one last group activity for the night. Everyone who had a smartphone was instructed to open the Dan Deacon app. All the lights in the room were shut off, and the phones began lighting up in different colors, their L.E.D.s strobing and their speakers competing against the blaring live music.

Before the last song, there was a delay due to technical difficulties, so Dan killed time by playing “Ohio,” a demo he rarely performs live that was goofy and strange, even for Dan Deacon. The set ended with Acts I, III and IV from “USA.” To continue the theme of his tour, Dan added at one point, “I don’t care who you voted for. I’m just glad if you fucking did.” But to call this concert patriotic wouldn’t be completely accurate. That night Dan Deacon brought us together in the upstairs of the Majestic — made us dance, touch each other’s heads and point at a nail together — and left partisanship off the dance floor.

— A version of this article was published in the print edition of the Daily on Nov. 12.