By Matt Harper
Recently, I wrote about Dan Deacon’s decision to add a 14-piece ensemble to his performance. Dan invited me and fellow producer CJ Smith down to Baltimore to watch this grand experiment in music come to life … and we were pleased to accept the offer. We watched Dan and his gang of percussionists, keyboardists and xylophonists practice for about three hours, and then we sat down and talked to him for a bit about exactly why he’s moving away from purely electronic composition into a realm more closely approximate to orchestral composition.
What was clear to us after talking to Dan was that the addition of live instrumentation was the direction he had always seen for himself. But as he put it, when you’re just starting off, it’s hard to convince 14 people to come and practice for 10 hours a day to play to a crowd of no one. But things are different now. His last album, Spiderman of the Rings, was a critical success, and Dan’s frenetic shows have earned him a steady following of loyal fans. So it seemed like the time was finally right to step up his live performance by bringing along his makeshift ensemble.
Of course, even he admitted that it might not work out — as we witnessed during the rehearsals, live instrumentation brings a greater range and richness of sound, but there are also certain things a computer can do that human hands just can’t. So what happens if the live show gets messed up? What happens if it all falls apart? Dan assured us that it very well might — but this was what he wanted to do, this is the sound he’s going for with his upcoming album Bromst. So even if he’s booed and pelted by fruit, this is going to happen.
Luckily, that was not the case last night at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. After being on hand for the first rehearsal, CJ and I were intensely curious to see how everything would come to fruition — how could we not? So we braved the rain and made it to downtown Brooklyn. As we walked into the venue, we kept running into various members of Dan’s new group … and, of course, the first things we asked all of them was how the rest of their rehearsals went. Were the kinks worked out? How did they think the show was going to go?
Maybe they were nervous, maybe they were just being modest — but the general response was not overly confident.
But I can assure you, if there were problems onstage, they were not obvious. The crowd was going crazy and seemed unfazed by the new direction Dan had taken. Sure, I noticed one or two times where things seemed to be on the verge of falling out of sync … but everyone kept it together, and the results were amazing. The whole thing is even more astounding when you stop for a second to consider that this was the first time ever this group had played together onstage … and perhaps the third or fourth time they had played together as a full group ever.
So while things may not have been perfect, I think it’s fair to say that Dan’s grand musical experiment was a success.
And if you’re curious at all, Dan heavily suggested that his spring tour in support of Bromst will also feature a live ensemble — so if you missed him last night, make sure to check him out then.