Dan Deacon at the Vera Project
25 Apr 2009 at The Vera Project
My friends and I were in kind of a low-key mood, owing mostly to Friday night hangovers, so I wasn't as jazzed about seeing some high-intensity electronica as I could have been as we approached the Vera Project on Saturday night. However, on entry, we caught the last song of Teeth Mountain and I began to perk up. With weird vocal effects and hypnotic, speedy drumming, I was strongly reminded of Crash Worship shows from my college days and immediately began to crave mescaline.
In between sets, we took note of the large bio-diesel bus which was being used to cart Dan and his peeps all over creation. As Chris B earlier reported, Dan and co. were in need of vegetable oil to power the bus and had issued a plea for donations in exchange for guest list spots. As expected, Seattle did not disappoint and we saw that the bus was surrounded by at least 10 or 15 large canisters and at least one pair of jeans hanging from a tree, filtering the dirty grease into useable fuel into a bucket below.
After a short break, Future Islands took to the stage. What the hell? They were amazing too! The Vera was pretty much at capacity at this point and people were really enjoying the strong beats and neo-new wave style, some already moved to dance in the early evening. Future Islands unlikely frontman was a great performer, very theatrical and kind of wacky, a lot of fun to watch. The throaty vocals were amazing and infectious, and the overall tone was dark yet dance-y. Boy howdy, that man could howl. By the end of the set, the whole room was bouncing up and down to the deep bass and poppy dance grooves. Good stuff. Highlight song: "Pinnochio".
I reconvened with everyone for a little motivation in the Center before Dan Deacon and then got into my perfect birds-eye view above the Vera floor. There was an extensive setup onstage, at least 14 people at one time scurrying around and testing out instruments, twiddling with pedals, components and tons of wires. The ever-present neon green skull was in the house, lording over the proceedings like a post-apocalyptic Yorick. I took note of three drummers (most of Dan's band seemed to be from either Teeth Mountain or Future Islands), a xylophone, a clarinet and a saxophone, plus loads of keyboards and samplers as well. The opening loops drew high praise from the sold-out crowd, not realizing it was just more of the (very, very) long setup. A penitent Dan addressed the crowd through his vocoder: "Sorry that we take foreeeeveeeer...We take forever every shoooow...There's no excuse, we're just lazy stoner perveeeeeerts..." Hee. The entire crew left the stage for a few minutes, leaving us with a Casio version of "When The Saints Go Marching In" followed by Enya (oh, the irony!).
The entire ensemble returned a few minutes later all kitted out in white jumpsuits. The band was ready. The audience was ready. The sound guy was ready! But no...we had to endure a little more sound check. Really? Only just a little more. Dan had his people play "Rag Doll" by Aerosmith to check all the sound out. It sounded like shit. But then they began! WHOO!
We started out with a little exercise, where Deacon instructed the crowd to raise both hands in the air, find the tallest person around them and all move in to rest their hands on said tall person's head. A long recitation followed (which I won't attempt to recreate) that was very amusing. Finally, Deacon and co. launched into the opening strains of "On The Mountains", which began with some simple chimes, followed by a great drumbeat and then a low electric hum. Deacon began pogoing up and down and the already wired audience followed suit as the lights went down and the music exploded. It was a scene, man. The lights were alternately strobing or the neon skull was lit, this was all totally worth the wait (even on the first song!). The screamy, scratchy lyrics were indiscernible, but high pitched and operatic. The core of the audience became a seething mass, all moving together as one unit.
Song 2 (which I believe was "Red F" but I could be wrong) was even crazier, with a breakneck drum beat and some spiritual sounding vocals, also barked through the distortion mike. The energy was infectious and the music hypnotic, everyone with their hands in the air like they just don’t care, clapping along - it was just so much fun already! The song ended on a dime, to the audiences collective "WHOOP"! A wonderful xylophone began "Paddling Ghost", which quickly turned into another high energy tune, with more of an island vibe, owing to the prominent xylophone and drums. The floor was a sea of people swirling and swarming up towards a very sweaty Deacon at the forefront. It's stuff like this that makes me forget that I'm getting old; it's joyous, consuming and definitely aerobic.
At the break, Dan had us with our arms wrapped around ourselves, eyes closed. "This is the sound of an alcohol-free venue. It's so quiet and everyone is doing what I say!" He had the audience shuffle and rotate slowly, bumping into strangers and instructed everyone to just continue on in one direction when the music began.
And everyone did. "Snookered" began peacefully with a metronome and xylophone and low, rumbling bass. I liked the vocals on this song; it was like they were coming from somewhere else but I realized by watching Dan that they weren't coming from a sample. The song was a bit disconnected and the drumming seemed a bit off, but I forgave it. The xylophone parts were absolutely beautiful and when the organs kicked in on top, it created a good, soul-shaking effect. People were actively crowd-surfing! I haven't seen that in years, y’all.
Then the fun really started. Instructing the house crew to turn up all the lights, Deacon split the crowd in half and had them leave a large circle in the center of the room for a "fancy dance" competition between the two sides of the room. It was great. While the band played "Woof Woof", the whole audience was clapping and cheering, so many people taking turns dancing wildly for the whole room, completely unabashed and unashamed and having the best time. You just don't see stuff like that too often. The song was almost incidental to the dance-off, just a lot of "SQUEEEEEE" and drums/xylophone beats.
Finally, Deacon corralled the entire crowd into one corner of the venue, clearing a huge space. I’d heard about this and squealed out excitedly, “Dance Gauntlet!!” The girl next to me looked at me like I was crazy. Crazy like a freakin’ fox, ‘cause that’s exactly what he was setting up. Dan had plans to take the gauntlet out of the room, through the hall, up the stairs, outside and then back into the venue through the back doors. And that’s exactly what happened. To the tune of “Balti Horse” (an exceptionally long song), the whole room bounced while everyone waited their turn to dance through others entwined arms, laughing and having a great time.
The song was simple throughout and contained no vocals, but busted into a jubilant, psycho dance party vibe when the room began to refill as people made it all the way through the line. Drummers were going insane, the saxophone was belting out fat little hoots all the while, the gauntlet still going strong. Once the gauntlet ended, the room turned into one huge dance party, and the music changed into this hyperkinetic song with heavy guitar, tight drum and howly vocals. It was a truly exceptional experience and difficult to just be an observer. They play the hell out of the song to a strong finish and wild screams from the crowd.
I thought we were done at that point, but we had one more left to go as Deacon directed us through “Silence Like the Wind.” Everyone sang along to a single note organ and faint tambourine, until the organ took over, church-style and it was eerily reminiscent of hearing a hymn in church. Suddenly, everything erupted into more dance party madness and the entire house was dancing with all heart and conviction. Dan was leading all up front with his weird, operatic-aria posturing, hollering “One more time!” over and over. All I could think was “Anyone who was not here missed out and I feel sorry for them.”
My friends and I went out and danced until 3am, not a hangover in sight.
(Photos: Andy Aupperle and Kristina Moravec)