Dan Deacon & The Wham City Ensemble, Future Islands, Adventure, Teeth Mountain @ ULU
Dan Deacon & The Wham City Ensemble, Future Islands, Adventure, Teeth Mountain
University of London Union. 05jun09.
This four act Hubbubalooza has been touring around the US, Australia and Europe for three months now, the three support acts doing their shtick prior to linking up with Dan Deacon to flesh out his gonzo-electro party sound. One sensed no weariness either, when it was announced that one of the players was having to leave the tour tonight, he was spirited to the back of the room on audience hands, then back to the stage, as was another player celebrating their birthday.
It was that kind of night, Dan Deacon being not only a manipulator of sound, his own voice and light (the bureau in front of him used, amongst other things, to control a number of small spotlights across the stage, not to mention the glow of a neon green skull) but also of audience. The ensemble comes largely from Baltimore’s Wham City collective that has precious little agenda aside from, it appears, to create and encourage further creation in others. Tonight that collective gets a few hundred extra members, as the band are as much a stage turn for us, as we are a live floor show for them.
The start of the show was a protracted thing; Dan requested that we all grab the back of the head of a nearby person, stare into their eyes and repeat after him. Several hundred people thus delivered a mantra into the eyes of their friends, a mantra that began “Fuck you!”, weaved through vengeance, bloodshed and the acquisition of the Austin Powers box-set, and appeared to be an affirmation of fraternity and love.
We were then required to countdown from 40, although we were allowed to miss out numbers 39-14, building up our voices so that by the end they were a formless caterwaul of noise. This provided the perfect crackle and buzz for the band to step their great leap forwards and into the start proper. It was a euphoric moment, a festival moment, only in a sweaty room. Which is better.
Dan Deacon is an unlikely looking figure to be in command of all this. Whilst setting up the stage he appeared in his massive 80’s breakfast telly specs, balding pate, insubstantial beard, rather more substantial tub of a belly, hole-ridden t-shirt and baggy cardigan. Yet come show-time he, along with the rest of his players, were transformed into white jumpsuits and looking like a kind of experimental showbiz army. Certainly the four guys around the massive table of synths looked like generals in a war-room; generals able to cut a little rug anyway. Behind Dan there was also a three-strong percussive attack, and two xylophones on the go, amongst other things.
The show continually broke off into what can be only described as Butlins camp games at verbal gunpoint. We were asked to form a circle in the centre of the room [see above], in which a couple of folks were pulled out to lead the room in interpretive movement, like ad-hoc Lizzie Webbs. Dan then split the room in two for what became a tag-team barn-dance-cum-break-dance face-off. All the rooms a stage. Not just the room either. Later we were required to form an ever growing guard of honour that snaked out of the room, down the stairs, out the building and round the corner (despite the rain) before curving in on itself.
The result of these clusterfuck parlour games means that curfew was broken by a good half an hour, a situation celebrated with a song that flashed up the slogan “All Night Party” on the back wall accompanied by Dan’s manipulated uber-Chipmunk squeak suggesting the same. Good times had.
What of the supporting players though? Teeth Mountain played a drone that was both glottal and reedy, like throat singing, only reached with violins, autoharp, saxophone and laptops. Over the top of this was a spirited tribal thwack from the two percussive rumblers. Their second piece featured more conventional instrumentation (albeit with a 3rd lap-top added along with a guitar) and twinkled like a solitary wind chime in an otherwise foreboding Un Chien Andalou wind-tunnel. They took the whine of guitar and the stage whisper of distorted voices and build it up into a wall of intense noise.
Before placing eyes on him, Adventure (aka Benny Boeldt) sounded a lot like Kraftwerk if they were fat guys in Hawaiian shirts playing high-octane Tetris. The loud garmenting was in place once I took up a spot with a view, but there was certainly no Teutonic discipline in Boeldt’s carry. Boeldt often played his synths seemingly one handed like a snooker pro feigning nonchalance and fond of a behind-the-back trick shot. As he came to a conclusion, the projection behind him shouted in five foot capitals “FUCK YES” which is probably a better summary than I’ll manage if I keep writing all day.
The most beguiling of the supports though were North Carolina’s Future Islands [see pic above]. Gerrit Welmers was make his synths talk in hi-energy electro-pop, William Cashion, with a dream catcher hanging off the end of his bass and a polite moustache on his friendly round face, was supplying a post-punk-funk bounce whilst up front squat vocalist Sam Herring was owning the stage like AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, yet supplying a energetic take on Joe Cocker’s phlegmy croon. It made for a peculiar mix, but not an incompatible one.
“Looks like I may have had a pants malfunction” said Herring early in the set, but this didn’t cause him to reign it in any, gripping onto his belt as he threw his swarthy and chunky frame around the stage. They often talk of football coaches who “head every ball.” Herring, by the same token, manages to drag in the charming sweep of each synth hook with his relentlessly hammy stage-prowl. Joy unconfined, in short.
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