In Children of Men, Julianne Moore tells Clive Owen that “the ringing in your ears is the sound of ear cells dying. Once it’s gone you’ll never hear that frequency again. Enjoy it while it lasts.” Although the veracity of this statement is questionable, given that tinnitus still isn’t fully understood by scientists, I’m pretty sure the ringing in my ears following the Dan Deacon/Deerhunter/No Age show (billed as “No Deachunter”) was a strong indication that I’m going to need a hearing aid by 40. Hell, just after the first song, a bludgeoning seven-man rendition of Deerhunter?s “Cryptograms,” I think everyone in the crowd had lost about 20 frequencies at once. All three acts were onstage together, abusing their instruments for a monstrous introduction which redefined “wall-of-sound” for me and all the other aural masochists in attendance. The word “awesome” has lost a lot of its impact due to overuse, but believe me when I say this show was awesome in a Biblical, paramilitary kind of way.
Following a blistering run through “Miner” by No Age (who, as duo, were somehow only slightly less loud than the seven-man ensemble) and a five-minute dance party spawned by Dan Deacon’s “Red F,” Deerhunter came on alone to give the crowd a much-needed breather, playing “Agoraphobia” and “Never Stops” off last year’s excellent Microcastle. From that point forward, the bands rotated after every two or three songs in an effective “round robin” format that kept the sold out crowd alternating accordingly between unselfconscious dancing, zoned-out head-bobbing, and quasi-moshing.
Just when the format of the show might have begun to feel formulaic or perfunctory, Deacon threw a wrench in the system by injecting his unique brand of audience participation into the proceedings. Things got a bit shaky during “Of the Mountains,” when Deacon selected one audience member to lead the rest of the crowd in some sort of mass interpretative dance/punk rock Jazzercise session (since the person was never asked onstage, most of the crowd couldn’t see him to copy his moves.) But Deacon found much more success for “Baltihorse” when he asked eight people to pair up and face one another, holding each other’s hands above their heads to create a human tunnel which the rest of us traveled through in a sweaty, stinking conga line. Then, as each pair of concertgoers reached the end of the tunnel, the two would join hands and add another extension to the human gangway until it snaked around the entire room.
The Southgate House is one of the best venues in the country, spacious enough to contain blasts of indecipherable noise yet intimate enough to complement shimmering indie rock (there’s no barrier between the crowd and the stage, which is only a few feet high), and both were on display. By the end of the final one-two-three punch of Deerhunter’s epically insouciant “Nothing Ever Happened,” the sensory overload of Deacon’s “Wham City” and No Age’s two-notes-and-a-cloud-of-dust rocker “Everybody’s Down,” the crowd was a sweaty, beer-soaked mass of squalor encased in a Pig Pen cloud of cigarette smoke. (Thanks a million Kentucky, there goes my 5,000th attempt to quit.) Outside, the humidity of the Ohio River mixed with the buzzing in my head to create the kind of clouded consciousness one gets after suffering blunt head trauma. But while my body screamed at me for days following the show, every headache, earache and backache only served to remind me of the best show I’d seen all year and to enjoy it while it lasts.
The last time that Brooklyn-based Gang Gang Dance played Columbus it was more than appropriate that they graced the stage at the Wexner Center for the Arts. What they were peddling in that cycle could still be easily viewed as extraordinarily avant. The music from God’s Money was as pretentious as it was colorful and that performance in particular, while filled with emotional highs, was as danceable as it was difficult—in moments thrilling, but better hung from a gallery wall than fed from a ghetto blaster.
What a difference a new album, last year’s Agit-fave Saint Dymphna, and a change of venue make. I’m not sure if the tour of Saint Dymphna was scheduled exclusively for dingy dive bars, but every note on this night fit perfectly in the stale beer and sweat soaked darkness of Circus. It helps that while remaining as seemingly experimental as ever, the group expanded their sound onto a populist canvas with the songs on Saint Dymphna. In doing so, as long as there’s a melodic base to orbit, Gang Gang Dance is free to explore their world clash, their electronic strategies, and their extraterrestrial locomotion. If there were one element that elevated this trip to town, besides the fact that the album sounds as much of the street as it does the jungle, is the foresight to give vocalist Liz Bougatsos the role of conductor. Doubled with drummer Tim DeWitt, she manned a collection of bongos, tablas, toms and steel percussion, leading a succession of rhythmic workouts that served as segues, but more often than not, became their own monstrous peaks and valleys. Though at Bougatsos’ command the set was sewn into a grand, eclectic package, it was Brain DeGraw, constantly floating over his mountain of keys, knobs and triggers, who continually cut the atmosphere with a miasma of synthesized psychedelia. Spiking the club banger “House Jam” with his circuit bending wizardry, every turn DeGraw took was akin to watching Can enhanced with the idiosyncrasy of Timbaland. Never have I seen a live band in such a telepathic zone. Even guitarist Josh Diamond, who is becoming an equally frantic and pop-influenced player (especially on the newer material and the show stopping “First Communion”), held his own amidst the transcendental chaos clouding around him.
If at first glance Gang Gang Dance were simply balderdash, making wild noises with no real connection, now they seem to have purpose. It’s been a while since I’ve seen something as euphoric and increasingly genre-busting as their performance on this night. Maybe the Boredoms would be an apt rival, but they’d have to have morphed into Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam in the process. This will likely be the show of the year. No joke.