Neither the fact that it was a Monday night or the start to the Jewish High Holidays deferred fans from a show with experimental rockers Gang Gang Dance and Deakin (of Animal Collective). GGD and AnCo have known each other since the early 2000s, renting a practice space together and sharing a bill at the Empty Bottle in their wee beginnings, and their reunion at this venue was something special—both bands spoke highly of each other and their host, showing this gratitude and energy through their music as well.
Justindemus opened things up with his dark beats and singing, fitting right into the bill of music that both grooved and warranted somber contemplation. Deakin followed him, armed with two guitars, a keyboard, a mic, an OP-1, and a whole lot of pedals. (Between two of his songs, he said with tongue in cheek, “Thanks for your patience…while pushing all these buttons.”) Despite the significant number of instruments, Deakin approached all the music with an intense concentration and consideration, subtly layering and melding drones, rhythms and more together. The meticulous control of the instrumentals was the perfect counterpart to his vocals—cryptic in lyricism (and often effects too), the voice was the instrument he really let loose with, going from collected lower register drawls to unbridled yells and back again. His voice wove in and out of his other sounds, peeking above frequently. It’s not uncommon to compare thickly layered music to a blanket, but Deakin’s live set wasn’t quite that, instead, a sheet providing warmth and protection (with the feet and shins sticking out for contact with cool air).
The overall feeling of his live music was similar to his 2016 album Sleep Cycle, but only one song of the setlist was a track from his sole release—the album opener “Golden Chords,” which closed the set. Other songs were solo reworkings of two AnCo songs—“Wide Eyed” from 2012’s Centipede Hz and “DownDownDownDown” from their site-specific live show earlier this year—and a cover of a Tinariwen song with elements from his remix. In addition to this variety of songwriting sources, Deakin debuted several “sketches” of songs he’s working on, but had he not described them as such, we would most likely never have known. Performed with confidence and intention, these new tunes had the same grounded substance heard in Sleep Cycle. It’s clear he’s aware of all the sounds going on and what his lyrics mean to him, and even though I was transported into this world of creative sounds I hadn’t heard before and lyrics I didn’t have the meanings of, I felt—in one of those inexplicable, experiential ways—home.
While Deakin ushered in feelings of introspection and home, GGD ushered in cosmic and bigger-picture reflection. Tight grooves that slipped and slid from improvisation to intense composition pulled listeners in, getting many to dance, but unsettling harmonies and ambiguity of who was making what sound really gave the audience something to chew on. GGD’s live set was both carefree and thoughtful, occupying both ends of the spectrum and challenging what dance music is and what it can be. You could dance the night, mull over their musical choices, or both at the same time—hell, I know I switched back and forth through all of those.
At times, it was overwhelming, as if the physicality of the music and all its many components were grabbing you, yet I enjoyed this aspect of it. One of their more popular songs—“Vacuum” from 2008’s Saint Dymphna—was as encompassing and intoxicating live as it was with headphones, if not more so. And that’s a chiller song of theirs. Other moments had three percussionists going full throttle, a guitar acting like a synth, a synth acting like a few synths, and one of the fullest basses I’ve ever heard—with Lizzi Bougatsos’ ethereal shrieks and organic oscillations atop, of course.
With all the controlled chaos throughout the set, their closer was even more expansive. Introducing the song as one about “the future of the universe,” the band launched into a soundscape-oriented rather than groove-oriented jam, with flowing swells from guitars and synth, rustling drums out of time, and breathy, spoken lyrics—all musicians leaving lots of space for each other to settle, expand, and continue the cycle. It ended the night with a misty, thoughtful energy, bodies tired from dancing and minds tired from thinking, both ready for rest.
I wish I could have been there in those early aughts to see how GGD and Deakin have evolved in a live setting, but who knows, maybe they’ll both be back a decade or so from now. And if they are, you can bet I’ll be there.