BIG EARS 09: Dan Deacon

Baltimore electronic pop guru Dan Deacon gets together with a few of his friends at Big Ears

If Phillip Glass is the patron saint of minimalist composition, then surely Dan Deacon is at least the enfant terrible of pop music. The songs on Deacon's acclaimed 2007 album Spiderman of the Rings are wickedly complex electronic dance pop anthems, often reminiscent of cartoon theme songs from some sinister planet. It's a classic twist of pure pop tinged with experimental sounds to create something new. And it works.

But Deacon isn't just some studio genius knob-turner. He's a brilliant performer who has earned a reputation for high-octane shows that draw the audience into the performance. The last time I saw Deacon perform was a packed-to-the-gills show at Pilot Light in 2007. At the heart of Spiderman is a 12-minute sing-a-long called "Wham City"; Deacon handed out lyric sheets and recruited audience members to join him onstage in neon robes. It was both absurdist spectacle and pure unabashed performance, and there wasn't a person in the room who wasn't dancing. It was one of the best shows I've ever seen, and I'm forever a fan.

In March Deacon will release Bromst, his highly anticipated follow-up to Spiderman. Bromst features a combination of electronic, mechanical, and even acoustic instruments, including brass, live drums, and even a player piano. Deacon is already planning an extensive tour with an expanded band, and he'll hit Knoxville again sometime in April.

Wham City is also the name of the Baltimore art collective that Deacon founded, and it embodies the essence of the community spirit that his music also fosters. Wham City hosts an annual DIY music festival called Whartscape, and Deacon has assembled lesser-known Baltimore musicians and performance artists, along with bigger names like Jana Hunter and Beach House, for his acclaimed Baltimore Round Robin tour.

Deacon will round out Saturday night's Big Ears schedule with a midnight performance at the Catalyst in the Old City. He'll be performing as part of the Baltimore Round Robin along with bands like Adventure and Height and several others. The groups set up around the room and take turns churning out their songs—no breaks and no headliner. And with no front or back rows, Deacon will have the audience right where he wants them, right in the middle of the performance.