Dan Deacon performs at the Majestic Theatre.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that Bob Dylan's show at the Alliant Energy Center last night was great. And I bet Bruce Springsteen's cameo at the Obama rally was pretty good, too. But let's be frank: They're fossils, and they're no longer relevant -- to me, at least. To quote a Dylan lyric, neither of them is "really where it's at" anymore. This is why I spent my pre-election evening at the Dan Deacon show at the Majestic Theatre.
Deacon's concert was perfect for the evening before the presidential election. His shows are renowned for the spectacles they create. They often involve hundreds, even thousands, of jubilant people doing coordinated movements: vast, swirling circles; long, snaking lines; or just over-the-top dance contests. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the Walker protests at the Wisconsin Capitol, what ostensibly began as fun has taken on a profound dimension, one in which people unite and claim physical space in an ecstatic act of empowerment.
Experienced live, Deacon's music is sublime and orgiastic, a riot of sound, color and humanity that bursts forth from a swirling maelstrom of synthesizers, propelled by thrumming tribal rhythms. At times it is frenetic, and sometimes bleak and dystopic, but mostly it is lush, transcendent music that embodies a feeling of community, hope and empowerment.
During the show, Deacon led the crowd through a number of dance-based activities, including a tag-team dance contest with a five-second rule, a game of "Simon Says," and the building of a giant human tunnel. The most poignant moment, however, was when he had the whole audience form a knot facing an imaginary center point, pointing their arms in, and then slowly shuffling clockwise. As this was happening, he said something like, "Can you feel it? You are moving as an individual and as a collective at the same time. You have to make decisions from both perspectives to make it work."
While hurtling across the country on his many tours, Deacon has concluded that we've lost touch with the beauty of our own land and rarely refrain from despoiling it. On his most recent album, America, he decries this loss of perspective, particularly during "USA," the album's final, four-movement piece, which closed last night's show. The words, Deacon says, are "about the destruction of that land and the feeling of being disenfranchised, of having no connection to your home," but the exultant music celebrates the country's beauty in all its vast and varied glory.
Like I said, it was the perfect show for election eve 2012.
Perhaps the politics of Deacon's work are not as clear-cut as those of Dylan or Springsteen, but considering the influence that electronic dance music is having on pop culture right now, I think that Deacon's work -- and his collaborative approach with his band and his audience -- is more relevant than "Blowin' In the Wind."