Last week, I talked with Stewart Brand, one of the founders of the Trips Festival. Occurring 50 years ago this month, the Trips Festival brought together poets, rock bands, gymnasts, authors, dancers and more in a giant LSD-fueled experiment that Brand characterized as getting a bunch of interesting people together and "turn[ing] up the flame."
Plenty of things grew out of the Trips Festival, but the one Brand mentioned first was the idea of "no spectators." In his words: "The idea that an audience shows up to a certain kind of event expecting to do something, not just to see something."
Participatory art endeavors were once limited to performance art; now, as rave culture and Burning Man have transformed the concept of an "audience," they've grown into entire movements. So it's a little strange to be walking around a huge outdoor indie-rock festival and see crowds of thousands just... standing there.
That is, unless the person on stage is Dan Deacon. Hailing from Baltimore and looking more like a calculus teacher than a rock star, Deacon performs a thick, bass-heavy style of indie dance music that's as intricate as it is dance-inducing -- except when Deacon implores his fans not to dance. Indeed, it's not uncommon to see a crowd at his shows sitting around in a circle on the floor like a kindergarten class, following the dictates of Deacon's experimental game where he plays the audience like an instrument unto itself. Then, always, he lets them explode.
Musically, Deacon's most accessible album America -- a battering ram of joyful blown-out beats, complex harmonic structure and catchy 1-4-5 progressions -- gave way to 2015's Gliss Riffer, which finds the musician, who has performed at Carnegie Hall, inspired by 20th century classical music. In fact, around the album's release, Deacon paid tribute to player-piano iconoclast Conlon Nancarrow at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. But Deacon's most direct psychological ancestor in that realm, clearly, is John Cage, a composer who utilized the audience, and their expectations, as elements in his own performances. (Another ancestor, really, could be Brand and his involvement in the 'New Games' movement.)
Dan Deacon appears Friday, Jan. 29, at the Fillmore auditorium -- which, coincidentally, is the ballroom that Bill Graham began booking just weeks after witnessing the success of audience participation at the Trips Festival. The Merry Pranksters would be proud. Details here.
Other shows of note this week:
Friday, Jan. 29: Metro Boomin at 1015 Folsom. The hip-hop producer of the moment (Future, Travis Scott, Young Thug) was last seen in SF tearing down the Warfield with a remix of "Blood on the Leaves" to a packed crowd; this club show at 1015 should be lit. Details here.
Saturday, Jan. 30: Hamiet Bluiett at Eastside Arts Alliance. The reigning king of jazz baritone saxophone, Bluiett's played with Charles Mingus, Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton and more; he's also a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet. In Oakland, he plays with longtime collaborator Craig Harris in Kahil El’Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Details here.
Saturday, Jan. 30: The Bay Bridged Anniversary Party at the Rickshaw Stop. The Bay Bridged team contributes a monthly mixtape podcast to us here at KQED, and if you've heard it, you know they have good taste in local indie rock. The Stone Foxes, John Vanderslice, Annie Girl & the Flight and Hot Flash Heat Wave help them celebrate a decade of doin' it up. Details here.
Sunday, Jan. 31: Julia Holter at the Chapel. If you need an introduction to Holter's ethereal music, give a listen to her version of Barbara Lewis' soul hit "Hello Stranger" and try to tell me she's not capable of altering the world around us. Her latest, Have You In My Wilderness, continues the enchantment. Details here.