Dan Deacon, the spaz-out electronic composer behind last year's absurdist, cathartic album "Spiderman of the Rings," wants to reinvent the concert experience, not grandiosely but with modest gimmicks that have a surprising cumulative power.
At the El Rey on Tuesday, Baltimore's musical resident du jour -- one of them, anyway; the city is percolating as of late -- divided his show into two sets, his first built around "Ultimate Reality." That's his new DVD, featuring three songs with video manipulated by Jimmy Joe Roche, one of Deacon's co-conspirators in the artists collective Wham City, a spiritual relative of the Northeast's influential Paper Rad art scene.
Two drummers from Baltimore bands -- Ponytail's Jeremy Hyman and Kevin O'Meare of Video Hippos -- added a sometimes-primitive, sometimes-frenetic live element to the hyper-saturated psychedelics of "Ultimate Reality," which screened behind the drummers, who were seated facing each other. "Ultimate Reality" has special resonance with Californians: The images are from Schwarzenegger films such as "Terminator 2" and "Kindergarten Cop." The audience whooped while watching the Governator in drag, slurping up food in slow motion.
For his second set, Deacon performed solo from the floor, behind a table of blinking electronics, happily ensconced in a writhing mass of art-school kids whose tastes for the transcendently silly matched Deacon's penchant for fluorescent clothes (think colored visors with tiny lights).
Although flustered by some technical difficulties, Deacon engaged the crowd with various stunts. He led them to whisper the word "professionalism" 10 times and then asked everyone to "think about what Ethan Hawke is doing right now." Later, he asked the El Rey to turn up the lights and had the audience form a human tunnel and then a dance ring. Deacon, leading and directing like a possessed third-grade art teacher, tapped into the joy and awkwardness of group participation.
So what about the music? Obsessed with the manic logic of cartoons, Deacon crams his compositions with pop-noise orgasms -- high-octane, maximalist, sometimes exhausting. In those moments of near self-flagellation, you wonder: What relief is on the other side? Deacon hasn't quite resolved that issue, but it seemed clear in the brightest moments of "Crystal Cat" and "Wham City," he'd figure it out soon enough.