The custom-painted school bus parked in front of the Electric Owl Thursday night should have been anyone’s clue that something special was about to happen inside the Main Street “social club.”
Baltimore’s Dan Deacon spearheaded that “special something.” Although his repertoire is more cerebral than the average electronic artist’s, flirting with contemporary classical performance, amped up Vancouver fans saw and felt for themselves that his brushes with “higher” musical culture has not spoiled his devotion to curating legendary dance parties.
Obviously, the crowd was familiar with Deacon, but the room’s vibe reeked of “WTF” during both openers – that’s “where the fuck did they come from?” – a healthy mix of constructive perplexity and vital intrigue.
With no sign that the show was about to begin, Ben O’Brien danced out in front of the stage. O’Brien, a founder of Wham City Comedy, appeared under the name “Earth Universe” – and pounds of hand jewellery, a key strapped to his forehead, and a suit-vest. Through the awesome might of PowerPoint images, he urged the audience to drink from his “Holy Bottle” and join his religion that is all religions – and no religions at all. (Wrap your head around that one!) Though he preached many enlightening points – including humans’ evolutionary correlation to chickens and the benefits of cannibalism over consuming “lazy,” barely mobile produce (produce aren’t alpha species) – his sermon was too much to put into words. Like any great cul- ahem, spiritual leader, his charisma was his most hypnotizing asset anyway. And how does one capture that in words? Earth Universe concluded by chugging three raw eggs and gulping from his Holy Bottle.
Next, looking like they beamed down from a psychedelic jungle-planet, were Brooklyn’s Prince Rama. Again, nobody seemed ready for what hit them. Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson and their synth-player dispensed sharp dance-rock amidst swirling lights that shone as vividly as the siblings’ electric green pants and tank tops. Nimai pounded away at her standing drum set, grooving with a smile that just wouldn’t quit. Taraka prowled and posed, squatted and kicked, reached her arms out to the future, and wrapped herself in her cape when she wasn’t shredding her axe. Behind glittery eye shadow, she leered piercingly at everyone in the room. Taraka and Nimai took turns descending into the crowd, touching audiences’ foreheads and appropriating front rowers’ hats. Comparing one artist to another usually owes more to laziness than writer’s block, but Taraka’s androgynous cool, augmented by her mic set-up that flipped between masc/fem vocal tones, was completely intoxicating, much like how witnessing Bowie in his prime must have felt.
Dan Deacon of course capped off the weird, the invigorating, the participatory, and the elating. After filling otherwise dead air during some sound monitor adjustments by leading “Happy Birthday” to no one in particular (then two people), Deacon went ahead and opened with “Sheathed Wings”. Two songs in, he already had people form a circle in the middle of the floor. Per his instructions, a couple of audience members danced inside the ring and swapped out. This ritual was just a small precursor to the fam-jam made of mostly strangers that came next.
Sometime in the middle of Deacon’s swirling electronic euphoria, he orchestrated the crowd into two factions: one group stood on the left side of the floor, and the other stood on the right. In this round, two of his trustees stood in the cleared middle aisle and led the crowd in a synchronized dance. The leaders passed their exemplary roles onto audience members like metaphorical batons. Again, fans entered the spotlight, two by two, and swapped out, two by two.
Like blacking out, memories of specific songs flash back intermittently, out of sequence. “Paddling Ghost” appeared in the mix. As did “Mind on Fire”. “When I Was Done Dying” too. Deacon initiated one song with an unforgettable exclamation point: After he tactfully lectured the crowd about moshing (“This isn’t a rugby practice.”), he encouraged everyone to move not sideways with elbows and “other weird parts of our arms” but up and down and launched into the apropos “Learning To Relax”.
The audience tried their best to retain Deacon’s lesson as they exhaustively dragged themselves out of the Electric Owl, wound up, still hyped, and running on an adrenaline that only courses through one’s veins when they smell their own sweat – like seeing their own blood – a primal response. No doubt, the sweat-soaked crowd craved more, and maybe they sought sweet electronic textures elsewhere after the show, but those who didn’t surely continued dancing in their heads all the way home.