Show Review: Dan Deacon with Nero’s Day at Disne(y)land at the New Parish

Originally published on December 6, 2011

Dan Deacon with Nero’s Day at Disne(y)land :: 11.30.11 :: The New Parish Music Hall :: Oakland, CA

Images by Julie Logan

Dan Deacon by Julie Logan

After leaving the The New Parish on a windy Oakland night, I was filled with overwhelming feelings of exhilaration mixed with the striking thought, “What the hell just happened in there?” The crazy gathering that I was lucky to be a part of was the work of Baltimore-based electronic music guru Dan Deacon. This show was different from any other that I’ve been to in that the entire audience was a central part of the action, constantly involved in different scenarios and games that Deacon orchestrated. He built a live music experience where creating a community among the crowd was just as important as the music pumping out of the speakers. This show was a night of progressive and genre-bending music combined with a re-appropriated Gymboree schedule of activities, and it strangely all fit together amazingly well.

Nero’s Day at Disne(y)land by Julie Logan

Before Deacon played to his rabid fans, experimental electronic project Nero’s Day at Disne(y)land opened up the night. This set was the sole work of Oakland artist Brock Bousfield and his keyboard, which he played as if it were an extension of his own body. He performed in the midst of the crowd with four big speakers set up directly behind his head, drawing a group of hard-dancing fans close to his table. People violently nodded along to his elaborate compositions, many of which sounded like something Dracula might compose while on drugs. My favorite track almost had a classical feel to it. Bousfield used a piano progression as a base layer loop for the song, and then kept building the sound with endless additional keyboard notes including bells, piano, harpsichord, squirmy synth sounds, and sporadic percussion fills, all playing atop raging punk drum tracks. It was really fascinating watching him intensely meld all these sounds together at breakneck speed.

During the break, people excitedly rushed to be as close to the front as possible as Dan Deacon set up his lighting rig composed of flashing LED traffic lights and topped by his self-proclaimed “trippy green skull”. Every twist and turn of this performance was both hilarious and awesome. He started by petitioning the crowd for spare AA batteries, and bizarrely, a battery packing audience was in attendance that provided quite a few to re-power an effects pedal. After having the full room count down from ten, Deacon’s sound system blasted off onto a musical mission of complex and high-tempo spastic beats. Sampler pad tapped-out melodic elements doubled as layered rhythms, while manipulated vocal tracks were mashed into the fray. Deacon also performed on the floor level with the audience, but he had more trouble holding his ground due to overenthusiastic fans that pushed hard into his table packed full of elaborately intertwined sound modulators. After being crowded out from behind his equipment during the first song, he enlisted the help of two audience members dressed as elves to be his personal barrier and had them begin a dance-off competition in a cleared out circle in front of the stage.

Dan Deacon by Julie Logan

At first, I thought the dance contest was just a tactic to get people to move back a little, but as the night went on, Deacon continued hosting group activities. He organized an interpretive dance session with everyone mirroring the movements of a woman in the center of the crowd. People got so into it, and smiles contagiously spread from face to face as people elegantly flapped their arms like swans. My favorite moment of the night was when Deacon got everyone to form a never-ending human tunnel, where people touched palms with a partner, and the pair at the end of the line would run through the winding human passageway and connect back on at the other side. The whole audience flowed out to the patio and back in again as a giant loop, and it was an insanely fun time with strangers. Throughout these games Deacon’s music was playing loudly, acting as the glue that held the entire experience together. In between songs, he would shout new instructions to the crowd in an amusing and charismatic way, and then dive back into his music, fans going wild once again.

This event was a showcase of some really talented musicians, and it was very exciting to see artists like Deacon and Bousfield perform such multifaceted songs as one-man acts. It was a great night of innovative music that incorporated many unexpected and ridiculous games for happy audience. It reminded me of what it was like to be a kid at recess, running wild and making up rules to imaginative games with friends, and it was a great feeling to have again! There are additional U.S. and international dates left on Deacon’s current tour, and if this sounds like a good time to you, head out to a show to prove your interpretive dance skills to your friends once and for all.


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