A sense of humour is an underrated quality in music, but a little goes a long way. This is the main thought that strikes as Meltybrains? make their way through their support set at the Roisin Dubh. Dressed in all white, sporting ironic moustaches, and playing a mix of noise, post-rock and electronica that calls to mind a combination of Boredoms and Looney Tunes (cartoon sound effects are liberally and appropriately thrown around like marbles), the act is like a referral from a friend of a friend to meet up with their “wacky and random” mate. Outside of one given cheerfully to Dan Deacon, the paint-splattered masks that they have become known for are regrettably absent. This is a shame, as I think the approach to offbeat regimentals could do with some more idiosyncrasies (shades perhaps of the much-missed ¡Forward, Russia!’s exclamation mark t-shirts, which was mocked with self-aware jocularity during a Maida Vale session in 2006: “You must be wondering why we’re wearing these shirts on the radio. The answer: We’re idiots”).
One particularly memorable moment comes when the music comes to a sudden stop for the band to harmonise the chorus of ‘Hey Jude’, seamlessly segueing into a rousing rendition of ‘We’re Sending Our Love Down The Well’ from the episode of The Simpsons where Krusty the Klown leads a Band Aid-esque charity song. It’s good for a chuckle, but there’s a weird sense of discrepancy. It kind of feels like someone telling you that they are the admin of a Facebook meme group and are therefore a comedian.
But for the final ten minutes there’s a marked change and it’s finally clear what’s wrong: the stage of the Roisin Dubh is too small. The five members of the band, along with their racks of synths, glockenspiels, drums, guitars and light-up violins are simply too cramped to let their freak flag fly. They seem to be very aware of this, too, and have just the plan to rectify it. They cap off their penultimate song by setting up a conga-like drum loop and moving en masse into the crowd with a synchronised dance, moving like a zoetrope discotheque, entering into flash dance-offs with audience members, jumping off walls and climbing the load-bearing poles in the room in a fashion I’m pretty sure has gotten people banned from the Roisin before. Once they return to the stage they run through the rest of the set with such animated abandon that any sceptics in the crowd are sated and ready for the nonsense to come.
Deacon himself was in the crowd, clearly enjoying it. At one point I turned to my sister and said “I think that’s Dan over there, the guy in the striped shirt and beard.” With withering side-eye, she replied: “You’re going to have to be more specific”.
When Deacon finally makes the stage, it’s with classic self-effacement over the glitches and technical difficulties that have already begun to plague him for the night. Over the course of the evening he’s to knock over his stage monitor twice, blow the electricity in the Roisin and have to start a song over, and make a phone call to America which probably wasn’t cheap. All this is in the name of audience participation, which he oversees like a combination between the host of a comedy podcast and a technician from the BBC Radiophonic workshop.
Such is Deacon’s commitment to including the audience in an evening of organised shenanigans that it feels like the music itself is secondary to the mandatory fun. At one point I overheard a fellow reveller saying “this isn’t even a concert anymore, it’s just a series of activities!” Deacon is aware that, no matter how effervescent or loud (and boy, is it very, very loud), a guy twiddling knobs and setting off modular patches doesn’t exactly make for a dynamic viewing experience. I mean, I could probably watch nerds play with analogue synths all day, but I’m weird.
Deacon sets up tag-team choreographed dancing (the members of Meltybrains? are of course very game), the mocking of anyone wearing a Batman shirt while texting, and a group singalong of Happy Birthday to his father while Deacon holds up his phone. New song ‘Change Your Life’, which takes two tries to get through thanks to an electrical short, is vintage Deacon, the riff pummelled into new shapes simply through repetition and sheer bloody minded tenacity. Deacon has written music about the politics of America in the past, but it’s hard to parse if anything from the current loonybin of USA circa 2016 is seeping in, though he does start off proceedings by withholding conversation about “the coming apocalypse in what’s to be known as the Trump States”. Joy and excitement is the order of the night, exemplified in an inverse wall-of-death monikered “The Wall of Life”, made up of high-fives rather than moshing. I’m fairly sure some still got their face walloped by accident though.
The highlight of the evening is a human tunnel, made up of two people interlocking their hands and running through when they find themselves at the very back. Deacon orchestrates this tunnel from the main area of the Roisin, through the back entrance, around the alley, past the two or three businesses operating to the left of the venue, and back into the pub. I don’t think I saw a single person while I was going through who didn’t look like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, and it felt like the kind of exercise that’s especially bolstered by the Roisin, the Arts Festival, and the city of Galway itself. I saw pictures posted on Facebook the next day by passersby unaware the show was on, with the typical caption “only in Galway”. It’s highly probable that this wasn’t the only place Deacon has attempted such candy-cane wedding theatrics, but it feels like a particularly opportune marriage between artist and venue.
Dan Deacon photographed for State by Mark Earley