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April 28, 2009
They say that one day Phoenix and Tucson will form one giant megapolis, a vast metro area spanning the 100 miles of open desert now standing between them. Until this dystopian day arrives, indie fans in both cities will find themselves heading for their doppelganger cities to catch touring bands that skip their home turf. I've chatted up many a Phoenician at Tucson's venerable clubs, and shared with them a sympathy beer in homage to their lonely 2-hour post-show drive. I myself am a veteran of such late night trips along the desolate and dark stretch of I-10 that connects the two cities, those drowsy 1am jaunts feeling akin to something out of a David Lynch movie.

And so it was that I found myself in the Valley of the Sun on a recent Monday night, having headed north with my friend Adam to catch a live set from Dan Deacon and his Ensemble at the Clubhouse. Neither of us had been to the joint beforehand, so we lit out on the early side to explore the nearby area, which is actually Tempe, home to the sprawling campus of Arizona State University (you know, the school that nabbed the Prez to speak at graduation, dissed Obama's honorary degree, and then ate crow). The Phoenix area has had its share of great clubs over the years, many of which have inexplicably and sadly closed: The Brickhouse and Nita's Hideaway in particular are two I sorely miss. Unfortunately the Clubhouse is not of the same caliber as those has-been haunts.

I'm all for dive bars. Can one imagine NYC punk without the hole that was once CBGB's? But Clubhouse takes it to a new and far lower level, like a debasing basement. For starters, it's in a damn strip mall, right next to some crap sports bar called the Horse and Hound. To boot, the joint smells like piss, and I'm not being figurative. Caution tape is randomly spread within, cautioning against just what, exactly, is anyone's guess. The bar is lined with tacky Coors Light banners, and the bathroom? Would it kill ya to fill the soap dispenser? The acme/nadir of this whole get-up was the stickers tagged in - yes in - the toilet bowl.



As the sun was arcing toward the horizon, up to this "club" pulls Dan Deacon's touring bus, which is actually an old school bus running on bio-fuel. To this hardened ex-Haight Streeter, it was smack out of every Dead show I've witnessed, right down to the ratty drapes lining the windows. Then again, if you're rolling through the land with a 15-piece ensemble, and you're known for your community organizing skills (take that, Sarah Palin!), such is how you, er, roll. To kill some time pre-show, my buddy and I nabbed a lousy bite across the street at the ludicrously named Native New Yorker sports bar. When I mentioned to the waitress that the homemade potato chips were a bit on the greasy side, her response was "well, they are cooked in grease." Like the true New Yawka I am, I could only mumble "you fuckin kiddin me?"



By the time Deacon hit the stage, I was ready, willing and able to be blown away. I love Bromst, and the idea of seeing this wildly creative Wham City founder play his crazed electro-whatever with a bunch of live musicians was scintillating. In some respects, he nailed it. His energy, even in such a hellhole, was admirable and contagious to the couple of hundred Valley youngsters. They played along with his spirit-building games, be it pairing off in team dances, marching around the club under a bridge of arms, or scattering about and touching the stranger next to you. In my humble opinion, it was all a bit juvenile, and reminded me of something I was commanded to do in pre-school; I mean, isn't there enough of an unspoken community at such rocking shows?

Deacon certainly pushed boundaries, and as my friend duly noted, seems more willing to do so as he himself becomes more popular. The audacity of schlepping all these music-makers around the country in a shitty old bus is something to commend, I guess. Yet herein lies the main rub with his show: unlike other large-scale operations (Arcade Fire, Efterklang), Deacon doesn't put his players to great use. Rather than being cloaked in layers sound, with details and dynamics that get to the core of what makes Bromst and Spiderman of the Rings so compelling, in a live setting Deacon is content to simply pummel the audience with a near-constant sonic assault. The barrage is led by Deacon himself, charging wildly on an electronic scrap-yard setup that makes Parts & Labor's componentry look like a 2012 iMac. The fact that Deacon stands off the stage, and in the crowd, is a cozy way to nullify the awkwardness of a lone guy on stage in front of a room full of people. Such was Deacon's tactic on previous tours, when he was plying his craft solo. But when there is a small orchestra in need of a conductor, Deacon could lead them to better places if he were right there with them, sharing a stage, guiding the light. In Phoenix it seemed that Deacon's fifteen followers, dutifully clad in white jump suits, definitely looked as if they could use some direction.

SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/dandeacon
SEE ALSO: www.whamcity.com

--
Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other articles by Ari Shapiro.

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