Editor’s Note: As of this publication, The Basement East along with much of East Nashville and other parts of the city were ravaged by a tornado, as many readers well know. The Basement East was one such place that saw extensive damage, and our thoughts are with them and the whole city during this difficult time. As writers, enthusiasts, artists, and just compassionate human beings, this particular piece will certainly hold somewhat dark, nostalgic value for us, and hope it can act as our personal ode to a special place, which will thrive again in due time.
Having come of age on 2000s experimental pop with the likes of Animal Collective and Black Moth Super Rainbow, getting to experience my first Dan Deacon concert on Sunday night was something of a rite of passage.
A composer and electronic musician based out of Baltimore, Maryland, Deacon has been at it since the start of the millennium. Sunday night’s show at The Basement East marked the fifth of a 44-show tour supporting the release of his fifth LP, Mystic Familiar, released January 31st on Domino Records.
I arrived at the beloved Woodland Street venue just as opening act, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, was starting their set. Already, the room was full of both people and rampant energy. While I’d never heard of Ed Schrader prior to Sunday night’s performance, I would end up leaving a self-proclaimed fan.
Schrader pranced around the stage, microphone in hand, with a level of swagger I can only compare to Mick Jagger. He gave his all to the crowd, and they were giving it right back.
“This is a really pleasant surprise,” he said at one point between his politically charged, post-punk anthems. “You go to New York or L.A. and people are just like, ‘I’m trying to be famous too so fuck you,’ but you guys are really wearing your hearts on your sleeves. You guys are being real people and I appreciate that.”
Talking to Deacon fans following the conclusion of Ed Schrader’s set, I learned that Deacon had produced and co-written the act’s latest release, “Riddles.” It always warms my heart when artists with established platforms bring up lesser-known contemporaries. Schrader’s performance made it clear why he is someone Deacon believes in.
Then, it was time for the headlining act. Roadies brought a big, fold-up-table to center stage, stacked two feet high with various electronics. Accompanied by a bassist and drummer, Deacon took the stage to a roar of applause, and immediately launched into a high-energy tune from his latest record.
After a couple of songs, something unexpected happened. Long time fans would have seen this coming from a mile away, but myself, a first-timer, was unaware of Deacon’s love for audience participation.
“Everyone form a big circle in the middle of the room, and mind the poles,” he playfully commanded from the stage.
He then called on two members of the audience to have a dance contest in the middle of the circle and instructed them to grab someone else when they got tired. I have to admit this sort of confrontation with the crowd made me feel a little nervous. It was a quiet, rainy Sunday night after all, and I was mainly there to write. All of that changed, however, when a friendly face grabbed my arm and pulled me into the enormous circle.
Suddenly I was dancing. A booming kick and buzzy synth guided my improvised moves. I looked like an idiot, but do you think I cared?
I quickly realized that this is what Dan Deacon is all about.
The evening’s vibes, which were already great, only improved from there. There were several more instances of audience participation, all structured with the intention of helping people loosen up and feel comfortable with who they naturally are. Deacon’s experimental pop served as the soundtrack to this overwhelmingly positive and actively inclusive experience.
Between songs, Deacon would have conversations with the crowd that almost mirrored stand-up comedy bits. He shared stories from his time on the road, poked fun at politicians, and commented on his disdain for using a setlist.
Deacon came off as a genuine guy, and it was refreshing to have an artist share themselves so intimately with the audience, both through their music and conversation. He repeatedly advocated for Bernie Sanders, and reminded Nashvillians how it important it is to get out and vote on this upcoming Super Tuesday.
“Y’all really got to get out and vote. It couldn’t be more important. I don’t care who you vote for, but I really hope it’s for Bernie Sanders,” he said to resounding applause. The excitement of Sanders’ political movement was palpable both on and off the stage Sunday night, undoubtedly serving as a source of the evening’s energy. (in fact, a Sanders benefit concert dubbed BernieFest would be held the following night at The Basement East, the night of the tornado)
As the evening began to wind down, and the band announced they had two songs remaining, Deacon focused the conversation on his DIY roots.
A founder of Wham City, a DIY arts and performance collective in Baltimore, Deacon has a long history of giving underground artists a platform. Last night was no exception, as he took time between songs to rhetorically ask the audience if there were any good local bands in Nashville.
“This is one of the only shows on tour where we don’t have a local opener,” he said. “I tried to find one but was having trouble. If anyone knows any good bands in Nashville come and find me after the show, I’ll be by the merch table.”
I walked away from the show not only impressed by his music and the energy he created within the venue, but also his passion for making people feel comfortable, and further developing artistic communities. My first Dan Deacon show will certainly not be my last.
If you’re in the Nashville area and want to volunteer in the relief efforts, visit Hands On Nashville. The site may be struggling to keep up with the amount of visitors, so check back periodically. To donate, visit The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.