The Wishful Guru

Ingrid Ma on Dan Deacon’s performance at the 9:30 Club.

“He’s the coolest guy in the universe,” my friend Andy screamed from behind me in the crowd, his hands cupping the top of my head.

Dan Deacon opened his set at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, April 11, by first instructing us to reach our hands out, lightly rest them on the head of the person in front of us, and close our eyes. For those like myself, inexperienced in Deacon’s ways, it was a strange request, but one that I found myself obeying instantly, curiously awaiting what he’d say next. He followed by asking us to “think about three things… Think about your physical body, then think about every single memory you have. Now think about your concept of consciousness. And now on the count of three, 1…we’re all going to start…2… at the speed of light, in a realm devoid of time, start switching memories and consciousness…3.”

Laughter and sheer disbelief rippled through the crowd, but Deacon reeled us back in, convincing us to marvel at our newly acquired consciousness, before transitioning into “When I Was Done Dying,” off his newly released record, Gliss Riffer.

Against a hand-stitched, vibrant quilt backdrop, the King of DIY Culture had a gonzo stage presence. Deacon’s energy was infectious: his balding head bopped up and down, non-stop, his hands darted around a tiny keyboard and colorful jumble of wires that made up his soundboard. With warped electronic pulses and repetitive loops, he charged the audience and commanded them in a somewhat uncanny and “guru” kind of way. With waving arms, he guided our synchronous movements and at one point, he even leaned over his soundboard and made sprinkling hand motions toward the tranced crowd, almost as if he were transferring magic.

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Dan Deacon at the 9:30 Club (photo by Ingrid Ma)

Between songs, he babbled to the crowd, jumping from idea to idea: an aside about Netflix here and an ode to Game of Thrones there. He’d switch from his normal, animated voice, to a deep and epic narrator voice, and back again. Jaws dropped all around me, people laughed uncomfortably, but no one could help but be gripped by Deacon’s exciting persona, to cling onto his every word. He was unlike anyone I’d ever encountered.

Famed for his lighthearted, interactive concerts, Deacon, as expected, played games with us throughout the night, spotlighting singular members of the crowd and inspiring the audience to move in any which way. His rule number 1? “Sassy as fuck, at all times.” At the end the night, he closed by singing “Happy Birthday” to one lucky member of the crowd, and multi-colored balloons were released from the balcony and into the reveling mass on the floor.

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Besides creating complex fusions of musical sound, Deacon’s art is in letting go, in dispelling inhibitions. His concert allowed me to suspend everything I knew, have been taught to know, or thought I knew, for the sake of just being in that moment. Throughout the night, he kept reminding us to cherish and abide by our own perceptions of time, of consciousness, of reality. “Wishful thinking, maybe, on my part,” he said at one point, but hey Dan, you’ve got a fellow wisher in me.

9:30 Club

815 V St NW, Washington, DC 20001

Ingrid Ma is a biology geek, film junkie, undisciplined coin-collector and admirer of tiny absurdities.

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