This past Friday, I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite artists perform at Hopscotch. His name is Dan Deacon, and seeing him play was the best thirty-five minutes of live music I have ever experienced.
Some of you are probably wondering why Deacon’s set only lasted thirty-five minutes. It didn’t. I don’t doubt that he played a full set, but I didn’t see it. A confluence of non-propitious circumstances forced me to leave early in his set, capping off one of the most bizarre roller-coaster nights of my life.
Deacon was slated to begin at 12:30 a.m. My friends and I arrived at the appropriate venue a bit after midnight and were greeted by the fast, loud, screams of Corrosion of Conformity (C.O.C.), a three-piece speed metal band. Uninterested in the potential concussions of joining in the head-banging mosh near the stage (cranial trauma wouldn’t come until later), we elected to hang back by the bar and bide our time. After a few shots and a shouting conversation, we made our way to a calm area beside the stage to prime ourselves to secure the best spots.
It was about 12:25 by this point, and we were anticipating C.O.C.’s finale at any moment. A song ended and another began with nary a moment in between, creeping closer to 12:30, that magic hour for which I had been giddy with excitement all day. And then the magic hour passed. The aggressive bass line, shrill guitar solo and loud drum beat continued on, a locomotive from hell made sonic, and I wept.
Exaggerations aside, I am being sincere when I say that their set refused to die and that my emotions hung on every closing phrase and inter-song comment. We had to catch a bus back to Durham at 2:00 a.m., and every minute we waited for Deacon was a minute of his set I wouldn’t hear. Finally, at approximately 12:34 a.m., the lead singer/bassist released me from my bonds of anticpation: “Thanks, guys, this’ll be our last song!” I was finally able to enjoy C.O.C.’s bizarre brand of music, not because I found it appealing in its own right, but because it was almost over. As the final glorious chord progression ended in a kick drum flurry, a sense of calm descended on me.
What happened next is a hard moment for me to relive—one “last song” bled into another “last song,” and I could only stand there, aghast at what I was witnessing. I sought solace in my companions, trying to laugh off this odd attempt at creative showmanship despite its Deacon-delaying ramifications. More angry lyrics, more ‘face-melting’ riffs and more nauseating gyrations from an inebriated thirty-something with magenta hair. Her grotesque attempt to access the pants of the lead guitarist captivated us as time entered a never-ending loop of indistinguishable noise. And in a crowd of hundreds, only a handful were dancing; the aforementioned aging fangirl stood out from the otherwise hipster-only crowd, and few others were drunk enough to join her in dancing. It was at approximately 12:41 that I took to Twitter to air my frustrations in the form of a stale joke: “@mdwy1 this show has more endings than the return of the king.” It was obvious the whole room wanted Deacon—I knew it and the band knew it. The invisible bond between performer and audience held only the red-haired groupie. Without substantial involvement from the audience, the room felt empty despite being filled by C.O.C.’s cacophony.
When Dan Deacon finally took the stage, his wardrobe choice—shorts and a t-shirt, both an identical shade of red—defined him as an anti-rock star compared to C.O.C.’s metal-god image. While he was setting up, Deacon turned on a skull-shaped strobe light, connecting with the audience better than C.O.C. at their climax. Flanked by two drum sets and a keyboardist/bassist, Deacon soon launched into his first song. His intimacy with the audience was palpable and in stark contrast to the distance (and irrelevance) of C.O.C. We were right at the stage, a few feet away from the man himself, and the crowd’s dancing was energetic and encompassing. My first blow to the head came from a particularly animated audience member when my head dip coincided with his jump and the crown of his head collided with my cheekbone, but I didn’t care. I was as in the moment as I have ever been, not worrying about school or graduating or any of the other things that constantly occupy my mind. And it felt like Deacon had the same success with everyone else in the crowd, amplifying and legitimizing my excitement until all of us—audience and performer alike—were all wrapped up in one happy, dancing, singing amalgamation of spirit.
Deacon is known for involving audiences in the shows—in the short time I had with him, he staged a dance contest, pitted the two sides of the crowd against each other in a synchronized dance-off and created a crowd-sourced visual atmosphere with the help of hundreds of smartphones. The audience members who had previously downloaded Deacon’s app were asked to boot up their phones and click “I’m at a show.” Then, after shutting off the lights and using a bit of showbiz magic, all of the phones created a glow that phased from one shade to the next and, during the chorus, became an explosion of random colors. The song was “Ohio,” one of my favorites, and I was overcome.
That night illustrates why live art is so powerful. It can take a lot of trust to allow your emotions to be swept up in a performance, but, when done right, live shows can turn thirty-five minutes into a lifetime highlight.
Updated 9/16/2012, 1:54 p.m.:
Allow me to first apologize for the way in which this article was received. The Recess Editor’s Note is meant as a space for humor, opinion, venting, preaching, sharing and explaining, and my note falls into many of those categories. It was not meant to be a factual, journalistic account of the concert. I took many poetic liberties in order to jazz up the story.
My hope is that you all can read what was meant as a light-hearted vignette and maybe get a few laughs from all of the unintentional sexual metaphors. In writing it, I was, as much as anything else, trying to bring humor to a situation that could have been very disappointing for me. Again, I apologize for the lack of context, and I apologize to those of you who can’t take a joke (kidding!).
Thanks for reading,
Ted Phillips Film Editor | Recess | The Chronicle