Musical loom: Dan Deacon weaves dense sonic delights

Modern electronic music’s pied piper, Dan Deacon, takes his audience on a fantastic trip. Photo by Shawn Brackbill. Modern electronic music’s pied piper, Dan Deacon, takes his audience on a fantastic trip. Photo by Shawn Brackbill.

Dan Deacon is a busy man. Best known for his sweaty, gloriously fun concerts, his talents go far beyond the ability to get a crowd excited. Once you get past a surface-level wackiness his music is finely crafted, and sublimely structured, owing as much to Philip Glass or Aaron Copeland as it does to underground club and dance culture. And though it’s true that he tours relentlessly and mesmerizes crowds with strobe lights and participatory routines, he’s also done his fair share of work in the comparatively sedate world of contemporary classical music, writing a piece for Carnegie Hall and scoring a (still-unreleased) feature for Francis Ford Coppola. Deacon spent years running a DIY venue and annual underground music festival in Baltimore, and he’s done everything from video art to stand-up comedy. He’s seemingly viewed each new tier of his success as an opportunity to apply his talents to a larger palette.

In the year since Deacon’s most recent full-length album (2012’s America), his voice has appeared on the bewildering, wonderful Matmos song “Just Waves,” in which he and a number of other Baltimore musicians sing-narrate descriptions of abstract imagery (gathered from ESP experiments conducted by the band) in harmonically aligned monotone voices. The results are eerie and captivating.

No less hypnotic, but far more accessible, is his remix of Carly Rae Jepson’s one-hit wonder, “Call Me Maybe.” Deacon’s remix title, “Call Me Maybe Acapella 147 Times Exponentially Layered,” may seem self-explanatory, but the effect it produces is wonderful. What starts as an instantly recognizable earworm, quickly becomes a burbling drone that grows denser and richer, eventually producing buzzing overtones that are triumphant and euphoric. (His remix of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” released last week, goes the other direction, cutting the song’s content by 50 percent).

Deacon is the only composer I can think of whose works might qualify as “bubble gum noise,” sincerely seeking the previously unearthed common ground between commercial dance pop, modern academic composition, and underground trash. His music embodies the best qualities that all those genres have to offer. It’s utopian and joyful, immaculately structured and well-considered, and presented in a way that is inclusive, direct, and unpretentious.

Many musicians who have come from the underground and dealt with popular culture have positioned themselves as jesters or pranksters, but Deacon never seems negative, ironic, or sarcastic. His demeanor, as a composer and a performer, is always one of genuine, inclusive joy. When leading a packed crowd through a choreographed dance number, he resembles the coolest camp counselor in the world.

Dan Deacon will perform at the Jefferson Theater on Thursday, July 25, leading the Dan Deacon Ensemble. One-man prog-punk powerhouse GULL and local enfant terrible Nu Depth (a.k.a. Dylan Mulshine, formerly know as the Rhythm Bandit) open. Tickets are $12-15 and the show begins at 9pm.


Progressive rockers

Yes has been a together for 45 years now, and the band has had no shortage of line-up changes and stylistic shifts over the decades. Emerging from late-’60s psychedelia, it was one of the defining bands of the ’70s progressive rock movement, though its music had more energy, focus, and ambition than many of its peers. Albums like Fragile and Relayer are classics that have stood the test of time and crossed over to prog skeptical audiences raised on punk (though only prog and jam devotees may want to take a dip in the Tales from Topographic Oceans double-LP). In the ’80s the band switched gears and found success as a new wave act, and scored a number-one hit with 1983s “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

Since then, Yes has persevered. The sole consistent member is the much-admired bassist Chris Squire. Well-known guitarist Steve Howe is second among the current members for most time logged with the group. Alan White may have been the third drummer, but he was present for the majority of the classic material. When longtime vocalist Jon Anderson left the group due to health concerns in 2004, he was replaced by Jon Davison, who had learned the songs by fronting his own Yes cover band for over 10 years. The current keyboard player is Geoff Downes, who got his start as a member of the Buggles, along with fellow producer Trevor Horn. Though they came from the new wave side of the fence, they were both key members of Yes for a time in the ’80s. The band’s most famous keyboardist, the combative and flamboyant Rick Wakeman, left big shoes to fill, but Downes’ credentials as holder of the Guinness World Record for using the most keyboards onstage in a single performance (28) more than qualifies him for the task.

At this late stage, Yes knows where its bread is buttered, and its current tour sees the band playing three classic albums in their entirety: 1971’s groundbreaking The Yes Album (home to “Starship Troopers” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”), 1972’s Close to the Edge (sporting two solid side-length suites), and 1977’s Going for the One (a transitional album from the punk era, packed with shorter, more focused material). It’s a selection of albums that may mystify those who only know the band through Roger Dean’s iconic fantasy paintings on the sleeves (Album is the last before they hired Dean, Edge’s cover is just a flat gradient with Dean’s logo, and One is the one where they ditched him in favor of a low-concept photo sleeve by Hipgnosis), but nevertheless it provides a good overview of the group’s long and varied career, packed with fan favorites that are sure to deliver live.

Yes plays the Charlottesville Pavilion on Tuesday, July 23. Casual fans can pay $35 for seating on the lawn, while the most ardent devotees can shell out $250 for a meet-and-greet photo op with the band and go home with a bag of exclusive collectable tour merchandise. Yes, there are people who love Yes that much (and they probably have their tickets already). The gates open at 6pm.

Did Yes lay the foundation for artists like Dan Deacon?  Tell us what you think below…


Posted In:     Arts


Previous Post

A handmade tale: Can craft and commerce coexist on the Monticello Artisan Trail?

Next Post

ARTS Pick: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

Notify of