Saturday, July 14, 2007: Day Two of the annual Pitchfork Music Festival.
Hundreds are gathered in Union Park, bearing the Chicago heat to witness Dan Deacon’s performance. However, with Deacon embedded at the head of a sprawl of mostly college-age humanity, only a handful will actually be able to see him at work. Dressed in a teal T-shirt and hunched over a table laid out with synthesizers, keyboards, an iPod Shuffle, and assorted makeshift gizmos, the sweetly geeky Deacon presses a few keys and begins mewing into a mic. His shrill electronic instrumentation crescendos into a childlike melody and the crowd lets out an approving roar as the tune evolves. The mass of hipster flesh starts shuffling excitedly.
“Crystal Cat” takes off. Within minutes, dancing bodies are falling in on him from every side. Many are mouthing the song’s absurdist stream of consciousness verse: “I’m gonna turn all snakes into bone/ Go wishing the stone/ Keep the crystal cat cold.” Crowd surfers weave in and out as Deacon’s curiously contorted electronica keeps scrambling. Standing at the forefront of this seismic wave, the sweaty Deacon soon succumbs to the energy, too, spasmodically shaking and headbanging.
The song nears its end. Knowing the instant that his synthetic rhythms will close, Deacon plans to take advantage of the split-second of silence that comes after the last note. Turning towards his jubilant congregation, he screams “Thank you!”— no mic necessary.
Compared to the crackling madness of “Crystal Cat” and the rest of ’07’s magnetic Spiderman of the Rings, March 24’s Bromst (Carpark Records) feels more subdued yet no less bizarre. “I focus on lyrics a lot more on this record than I did on Spiderman,” says Deacon. Whereas Spiderman’s lyrics were simply about evoking phonetic sounds that served as flourishes for the music, “Bromst is much from a traditional lyrical standpoint.” In spite of how anarchic all of Deacon’s material might seem to be, there’s an aesthetic motive underlying all of his madness. The 27-year-old Marylander has a firm grasp on music theory and is fascinated by minimalism. Though Spiderman was steeped in “absolute music” (material that is not explicitly “about” any subject), Deacon intends for Bromst to be closer to the concept of “program music” that commits to setting a scene about a subject.
The content found on Bromst itself is a patchwork of odd samples with Deacon’s ambient ambitions working as the common link. There’s no pattern to what he’ll pull out of his kooky sonic grab bag next: twinkling percussion, swirling psychedelia, fluttering chants, pulsating voice loops, rapid-fire piano playing, and a sample resembling the noise made when Pac-Man gets killed all come up on this disc. Bromst isn’t so much a coherent sonic manifesto as a bright-eyed experiment.
Deacon’s got big plans for a nationwide trek celebrating Bromst. While the previously noted sequence from the Pitchfork Festival might have occurred a couple of years ago, he remains dedicated to putting on a show like no other. ”I try to re-contextualize the space so that the audience feels like they’re a pivotal part of the performance rather than passive observers,” Deacon explains. Instead of setting up solo this tour, he’ll be joined by a staggering 13-piece ensemble that will incorporate a violin, guitars, a saxophone, and two drum kits (among other instruments) into his mix. Due to its scope, mapping out the massive group’s stage spots will require some spontaneity based on the venue, which will make each date feel different from any others.
“What’s nice about going on tour is that it’s a different attitude and individual culture to each city,” he says. “You try to figure out how to work within that framework.” Truth be told, Deacon doesn’t need structure to put on a good show—just a willing crowd.