It starts with a buzz — the low drone of an idling amplifier, the steady thrum of a Casiotone. It builds, pulsing, picking up chunks of structure, loose bits of texture, rhythmic silt and pieces of garbled syntax like flotsam. Eventually it breaks, releasing an ecstatic rush, carrying everything ashore over the course of a couple minutes of swirling, electronic psychedelic undercurrent.
"It" is the jams conjured by 26-year-old Baltimore artist Dan Deacon. His "Ultimate Reality" Tour — a multimedia experience combining Deacon's left-field dance music with collaborator Jimmy Joe Roche's day-glo freak-out films — rolls into Scrummage University in Eastern Market this weekend. "Ultimate Reality" is the kind of take-no-prisoners, faux hyperbole that 10 years ago you might have expected from, say, a too-serious-by-half death metal outfit. But reality, as we now know, is up for grabs. And "Ultimate" anything (annihilation, party, fighting championship) is no longer the domain of devil-locked headbangers and marketing executives. If Deacon and Roche declare theirs the "Ultimate Reality," well, then so be it. What's more, the tour rolls into town on a wave of underground goodwill that puts artists between "saw them when" and "mainstream curiosity." One is reminded of two very different progenitors.
First, another up-with-people, up-from-the-underground phenomenon, Andrew WK. Like AWK, Deacon is classically trained (he has degrees in composition from SUNY-Purchase). Like WK, he tends to eradicate the line between performer and audience by performing among the crowd at floor level. Like WK, his jams — "Crystal Cat," "Big Big Big Big Big Big" and a cover of Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash," for example — are big and Dumb with a capital Smart and a side of Awesome. And like WK, his live performances are led by Deacon's pure joy, enthusiastic grin and fist-pumping fun.
The other comparison? Ask any relatively young parent about Barney (you know, the purple dinosaur). Most will tell you that no matter how hard they try, their tykes find the damn thing irresistible. It's like the day-glo purples, greens and yellows accompanying the homilies to fairness and friendship are hard-coded into their wee brains. It would seem that Deacon and Roche's hypercolorized visual palette and yen for calculated synthesizer beats has a similar effect on the lost generation currently leading trends musical, fashionable and aesthetic.
In person, Deacon's that dude on whom thrift store clothes fit poorly — and that's his fashion mode. Pear-shaped, balding and bedecked with homely glasses to boot, in the live environment he's a cipher for the unfulfilled producers of seemingly-simple Id-based dance music. At one point he toured via Greyhound, relying on the kindness of strangers along the way. In short, he's an everyman. It's as though the triumphant comeuppance from Revenge of the Nerds were pulled off not with pomp and faux-rock costumes, but rather DIY and come-as-you-are.
One may be tempted to call bullshit, but there's nothing upon which to actually call bullshit. It's all just lain bare. Deacon is there. Performing. People are responding to it in at least the dozens in most major cities. That may not seem like much, but when you're an artist on the road, gathering any kind of rolling community equals a metric crap-ton of appeal. Deacon's most popular YouTube vids have more than 100,000 views. His last record, the epically titled Spiderman of the Rings cracked him with the ever-growing Pitchfork nation. And someone who traded solely on word of mouth a mere year ago is suing Greyhound for image appropriation and appearing in the hallowed pages of the Metro Times fer cryin' out loud. So something's working.
A large part of Deacon's musical appeal is that classic tradition of abandon. You don't have to think. That's what rock 'n' roll is all about. It carries you on waves of intuitive reaction. You may look at a YouTube video of a Dan Deacon show and think "holy hell. That looks like the seventh circle of hipster purgatory," but if you give it more than 10 seconds there's this bona fide enthusiasm steaming off the dude. He's plugged into a version of the visceral mind-meld just as powerfully as the Black Lips on the rock 'n' roll side. In the big picture, the Black Lips ain't much to write home about, but in the small picture, the one where your right hand's hanging onto your red cup of mystery mix and the other is formed into a fist and pumping in the air, there is, to quote Apollo Creed, no tomorrow.
Dan Deacon's "Ultimate Reality Tour" with Benny Stoofy starts at 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, at Eastern Market's Scrummage University, 1551 Winder St., Detroit. $7.Chris Handyside is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]