Feb. 22, San Francisco,
the NoisePop festival….
By David Downs
Baltimore’s music deconstruction savant Dan
Deacon returned to San Francisco
last night to play games and shred minds during his second show back since a
nerve injury put him out of commission last year.
The Tuesday night romp at San Francisco’s The Independent kicked off Noise Pop 2011, a 19-year-old, largely indie music festival sporting about 100
bands at 18 venues over five days including Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, Yo La
Tengo and No Age. While Yo La Tengo rocked the Fox Theater in Oakland, the small, sold-out Independent
throbbed with Deacon’s new material, and he clearly relished playing solo in
the crowd at the foot of the stage, positioned behind just a card table stacked
with lights and busted up effects gear.
Short, bald, and rotund – Deacon might not be a Grammy
posterboy, but he’s managed to inspire a unique strain of Deacon fever in his
devotees. Holding a degree in composition from the Conservatory of Music at
SUNY Purchase, he has emerged alongside Girl Talk as the reigning champ of East
Coast laptop apocalypses. But where Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis crotchets a dragnet
of pop hooks, Deacon emits anti-pop radiation on 2009’s Bromst: a mix of
chipmunk vocals, deliriously hyper-processed melody, and earthquake percussion.
A tireless road dog, he brought that delirium to every
live occasion until sciatica finally disabled the 29 year-old dynamo last
October. Since then he’s been working on another album, and just announced that
he’ll be scoring a Francis Ford Coppola film. Deacon was a little less animated
than his spastic, righteous live show at Treasure Island in 2009 year, but he
demonstrated his trademark command of the crowd, starting with a “Cecilia” sing
along, then a ‘Jurassic Park vs. What-You-Wish-Avatar-Had-Been-Like’
dance contest between opposing sides of the room.
New Deacon track “Fertile” seemed to channel an bit of
David Bowie’s “Heroes” in the bass line. “Of the Mountains” kicked off a giant
game of Simon Says. “Silence Like the Wind Overtakes Me” had the crowd blowing
kisses at the critics in the balcony.
Deacon had pointed words for Southwest airlines: who lost
his luggage after canceling his prior flight. It appeared as though baggage
handlers had unpacked all his gear, then juggled and dropped it all, and stuck
it back in the bag, creating glitches throughout the night, he said. The “Wham City”
finale flickered as abruptly out of existence as Deacon’s show started, thanks
to what he called a “surge protector solo”.
Hyperminimal hardcore performance artists Ed Schrader’s
Music Beat opened for Deacon in a bit of back to back B-more. Vocalist drummer
Ed Schrader and bassist backup singer Devlin Rise – both “wage slaves” from the
East Coast who make less than $10/hour – would have made David Byrne and the
Talking Heads proud with their stripped, confrontational act – featuring just
one floor tom, a bass, and the two vocalists screaming things like “Gas station
attendant! / Gas station attendant!”
Brought to San Francisco by
the same people who do Treasure Island each
year, Noise Pop 2011 launches into some rather strong headwinds again this
year. Situated so early in the Summer concert season as to not be in it, weather
plays a role. San Francisco
may get its first bit of snow in 30 years this weekend. About a dozen Noise Pop
shows have already sold out, but the live season as a whole suffered a serious
blow in 2010, when live show revenues dropped 20 percent in some circles. The
average youngster went to zero live shows last year. Record sales have also
contracted as a whole, and CD sales even more so, while digital is not making
up for that lost revenue.
The expense of touring might be boosting the number of
solo acts, which are cheaper than taking a full band on the road. At Noise Pop
they include Ted Leo, Ben Gibbard, Dan Deacon, Max Bemis, Dam Funk, Peanut
Butter Wolf, and Kid Koala. There’s also a lot of two-pieces like No Age, Best Coast
and Wavves. But it works both ways. All across America rents are low, food is
cheap, and the kind of obscure artist Noise Pop trades in have more promotional
power and artistic control than they did under the old “star” system.
But money? Not so much of that lying around.
[Photo Credit: Michael Orlosky (from Coachella)]