Dan Deacon: A part of the crowd

At Ottobar show, performer doesn't know whether he'll be in audience as he prefers, or on stage

(Baltimore Sun photo by Elizabeth…)
February 18, 2010|By Evan Haga | Special to The Baltimore Sun

The electronic-music composer and performer Dan Deacon says he's a bit concerned about his sold-out solo show Feb. 19 at the Ottobar. He's questioning whether or not he'll have to get on stage.

Operating below stage level over the past half-decade, the Mount Vernon resident has become a club and festival draw and something of a cultural export for Baltimore. He positions his keyboard, microphones and electronic contraptions in the audience and lets his horde of young fans dance and sing around him -- so close, in fact, that he nearly becomes obscured. And while you'd be hard-pressed to describe the pudgy, bearded 28-year-old as athletic in appearance, he and his revelers work up quite a sweat: High-five circles, dance-offs and human tunnels are all fair game for this master of ceremonies.

So when Deacon began playing shows again this year after being sidelined with a back injury in November, questions arose about how much the famously spirited performer would have to adjust his antics. Not too much, apparently.

"If I sense that the audience is going to be belligerent, I'll shy away from doing certain things," says Deacon, speaking almost two weeks ago. "I've only done two shows since [rehabilitating] -- one in New Zealand and one in Berlin, and both shows had audiences that understood the importance of personal space. I'm a little worried about the Baltimore show. I'm not sure if I'm going to play on the stage or on the floor."

Deacon doesn't know precisely what caused his injury, though he suspects he did it lifting heavy gear and then exacerbated the problem through neglect.

Pain in his left leg became so intense while he was on the road that he visited an emergency room in Northampton, Mass., and was forced to postpone several performances, including one at the Ottobar. (Tickets for the original Nov. 18 date will be honored Feb. 19.) As he wrote on his Facebook page, "It was a bummer way to end a really awesome tour."

For Deacon, 2009 had been a big year up to that point. Last March, he released "Bromst," an album that is, as the artist acknowledges, "less absurd" than his buzzed-about record from 2007, " Spiderman of the Rings." While "Spiderman" evokes video-game soundtracks filtered through children's television and the psychedelic 1960s, "Bromst" features acoustic instruments as well as electronics, and better showcases the composer's formal music education and contemporary-classical influences. Still, Deacon's vision, at once melodic and deeply avant-garde, is singular. As he says, "I think you could hear them both and realize they were written by the same person."

"Bromst" was followed by an ambitious spring tour in which Deacon led his large, live ensemble and used stages, though he says his show, with its communal elements, largely remained unchanged. (His appreciation for all things zany is still intact as well: Just look online for his recent music video, "Woof Woof," created by Baltimore's Showbeast collective.)

Since his trip to the ER, Deacon has tended to his ailment and spent time composing and remixing. He says he won't tour in 2010, but will play one-offs and festivals -- among them Bonnaroo, with his ensemble, in June -- and pursue new music. He's now at work on a project that will involve acoustic composition and performance exclusively.

As for the Feb. 19 show, if the set does go down stage-free, its success will depend in part on the hometown crowd. "The audience [at a floor show] has a certain level of responsibility, the same way that I do as a performer," says Deacon. "I try to evaluate each show in the beginning. ... If the audience doesn't seem to want to synchronize, then I can tell there's going to be a problem right away. Normally it's not, but you never know."

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