Unpredictable sets are the norm for Baltimore artist Dan Deacon. His shows serve as an opportunity to explore his music, and he's often reshaping songs live, improving upon the recorded version. His propensity toward experimentation becomes obvious just from reading the set lists he's using from night to night, as he tours behind his recent release, America.
"We try to do the bulk of the set as the new record," Deacon says. "But we always like to keep one third of [the] set old material, like from the previous records, and then keep one third of the set unreleased material that isn't on any record, sort of experiment there and try out new ideas."
The America tour offers an adventurous mix of electronic instrumentation and live percussion, with traditional instruments added along the way.
There's the instrumental "Guilford Avenue Bridge," an aggressive soundscape complete with big, dance-friendly beats. There's "Prettyboy," an instrumental that pursues a more lush and relaxed sound. "Crash Jam" (which features rather abstract choir-like singing) has a strong element of pop melody built into its hard-hitting trance-like groove. The four-part suite that closes the album, "USA," has moments that hint at classical music, electronic dance music and an intoxicating mix of tribal rhythms that melt into robotic synth-pop – all woven into a composition that's as expansive and ever-shifting as the American landscape that helped inspire the album.
Considering that Deacon is touring with his producer Chester Endersby Gwazda (joining him on electronics) and two drummers, his songs are bound to take on a different feel live. The pair of drummers especially makes the current shows quite different than previous performances.
"The drummers are Kevin O'Meara and Jeremy Hyman, two drummers that I trust very much," Deacon says. "I love their playing style, and they've learned the parts in and out and now can internalize them as their own and add their own flourishes … It adds a newness every night, whereas before, when I was playing to tracks, it was the same every single night."
The one thing that Deacon hasn't changed is the participatory dimension of his shows, as he strives to create an interactive vibe where fans – sometimes by the hundreds or more – do coordinated movements and dances. The audience, Deacon says, is as essential to his show as the music.
"They're another element of composition," he says, noting that he has developed triggers for audience involvement. "If you've got this huge group of people to try to make situations that couldn't arise organically, you need some sort of impetus to just start. And then (it's about) putting that back into the audience and having them take it over from there and see how it goes and how it translates and transforms."
While America shares common traits with Deacon's earlier work, it also takes Deacon into new territory, particularly with the "USA" suite. For the third part of that composition, "Rail," Deacon employed upwards of a dozen musicians to create orchestral elements.
The move toward using more guest musicians and traditional instruments is an avenue Deacon says he'd like to explore further.
"It's a huge difference," Deacon says. "I'm looking forward to not just working exclusively on the computer for the next record. I think it's going to be really nice."
with Grand Buffet
8 p.m. Wednesday,
54 N. Orange Ave.