Interactive summer camp with Dan Deacon at GAMH

By Mike Frash //

Dan Deacon //
Great American Music Hall – San Francisco
October 23rd, 2012 //

Dan Deacon has perfected the art of the interactive live experience. While his music thrives on the concept of stress and release, his chaotic sounds lean toward stress. So, to release the more intense tonal aspects of his music, Deacon became the best live music camp counselor ever.

Deacon incorporates interactive activities into his show and controls the lighting from his sound-board of mayhem. There might not have been two consecutive songs until the encore, and his stage banter is engaging and hilarious. He clearly has improv chops, and in the first 10 minutes he made reference to “The Lion King”, “Austin Powers” and the film “BIG” — and none of it seemed planned. The video imagery projected on the back screen also added to the nostalgia, which all helped take us back to that special summer a long time ago.

The way Deacon controls his show through his music, video/lighting and interactive activities adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable experience if you’re there to take part in it. Much like camp, if you sit on the side, don’t make friends and forget to have fun, then this show was probably too much. Deacon’s comedy, musical skills and mood-setting ability by skillfully controlling the show’s pace & aesthetics transported every willing participant back to Summer Camp.

And by doing all this, Deacon proved he’s an interactive super-genius.

The night began with a game of “Simon Says.” We were instructed to point at the ceiling, at a part of the detailed Great American Hall decor that represented “everything you hate about yourself.” Then, as we pointed, we were told to bend our knees and move away from that part of the ceiling, as far away as we could possibly go.

After chasing those personal demons, we counted down from 10 to zero but were not allowed to say “seven.” Instead of seven, the campers were supposed to name their favorite Lion King character. Deacon then gave three reasons why some people would say “seven.” The countdown started, and not a single person said “seven.” This set a very loyal tone for the rest of the night. Deacon then launched into “Of the Mountain.”


Next it was time to find that certain someone for the Camp Dance. Counselor Dan told the audience to push back to the edges of the room and create a large circle. It was dance-off time. With the house lights on, he called out two campers to be the first dance-off competitors.

After 10 seconds, the dancers would tag someone else, and if you were tagged you had to jump in and dance to the music. After three minutes of this, Deacon yelled “EVERYBODY!” and killed the house lights, and the empty circle filled in quickly to finish the song. Then, Counselor Dan continued with the new standout track “Lots”.


Deacon had his brother and his synth-mate’s brother lead a split audience in body-language mimicry. Each side of the split room had one of the brothers leading them, and if the leader waved his hand, so did you. It turned into Fellini-esque new-age dance art. The Deacon brothers’ side was obviously more in synch, but all that matters at camp is that you give it a good effort, and most campers did.


The most memorable part of this experience was the human tunnel into The Tenderloin. Counselor Dan had everyone move up to the front left of the venue as he picked two campers create a “London Bridges” arch by connecting their hands above their heads. One at a time, every single person in the venue went through the human tunnel, out the front doors of the Great American Music Hall, and around the block until you reached the end of the human tunnel. Then, you added to it and watched others go by.

The smartest campers waited to go last, and were treated to a private show and had a longer tunnel ride.

People on the streets and at nearby hotels didn’t quite understand this camp activity, but those engaged in it were loving it.

The human tunnel was so fun I screamed like a girl scout.

Upon arriving back in the venue, there was a trance-like vibe moving circular, and every camper had both their hands on other people’s heads. Everyone was doing it.

The hands on heads section transitioned back to music, and Counselor Dan introduced some subtle political imagery.

See if you can find the political references in this video about halfway through.

One of the only serious moments Counselor Dan had during the show was his pre-encore speech, which was mostly about Prop 37 in California. A “Yes” vote for Prop 37 would require most genetically modified foods to be labeled as such. It’s good to know Counselor Dan cares about what we eat, but in all seriousness, this is a great reason to go vote November 6th.


The most innovative technology concept Counselor Dan has is letting the campers use their cell phones as part of the light show. Deacon has developed an interactive cell phone app that uses the audience’s phones as part of the lighting.

About 1/4 of the crowd was using the app, and it emitted sound and variable colors of light from phone to phone. Counselor Deacon had a momentary technical difficulty, but Deacon pulled a classic camp counselor move by leading a call and response song that was quite entertaining.

At the peak part of the song “True Thrush,” some phones were strobing white light to enhance the craziest part of the lead single from Deacon’s new LP America.


Counselor Deacon finished the show with most of the USA Suite, and the video imagery added lots to Deacon’s messaging. At this point, the camp-like experience felt a bit exhausting, and all the activities made time feel stretched. There were so many memorable moments, like the action packed days many summers ago, and this enhanced the Dan Deacon live experience.

Part of this formula’s success is that the activities displaced you, forced you to meet new people, and kept things interesting. At most shows you’re stuck in one spot. Without even trying, most show-goers ended up in at least five or six different spots throughout the evening. The interactive nature, use of nostalgia and pop culture, and full audience participation makes a Dan Deacon show as memorable as the best summer camp.

The Crystal Cat
Of the Mountain
Konono Ripoff No. 1
Crash Jam
Guilford Avenue Bridge
True Thrush
Biggie Hat Was Ice Cream Time
Wham City
USA I: Is a Monster
USA II: The Great American Desert
USA IV: Manifest


  1. Molly Kish says:

    “soundboard of mayhem,” hands down one of the most entertaining camp/concert experiences, I’ve ever been a part of. Deacon is a must see live!


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