Turns out, the Teenagers are totally nice. I'm the asshole. Or at least that's what Dan Deacon thinks. But wait, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.


At the Teenagers' U.S. debut on January 19 at Neumo's, the red curtain was drawn across the show room, dividing the large space in half (the sound guys had to run sound on the other side of the curtain). Maybe a couple hundred people showed up. Two fans who rode a series of city busses up from Portland (Portland to Vancouver, Vancouver to Longview, Longview to Olympia, Olympia to Tacoma, Tacoma to Seattle) met the band before the show and got free tickets from the Teenagers for their trouble (told you they're nice). It was a 21+ show, so there were no actual teenagers in the place.

Backstage, a friend of opening act the Pharmacy was drawing cat whiskers, lightning bolts, teardrops, and dots on everyone's faces. Teenagers bassist Michael Szpiner wanted to talk about Botch. "I'm sorry," he said. "I am asking everyone this: Do you know Botch? You know their DVD?" Apparently, catching Botch in Europe with Dillinger Escape Plan was a big inspiration for Szpiner, though you wouldn't really guess it from the Teenagers' cheeky pop.

Onstage, the Teenagers were cool but sloppy, fun enough but lacking some of the polish of their recordings. Singer Quentin Delafon wore a weirdly bemused smile most of the time, as though he couldn't believe he was up there sing-speaking these songs either. Szpiner and guitarist Dorian Dumont seemed confident enough, but the two girls (both pretty and wearing dresses) brought on board to play drums and second guitar seemed shaky. The drummer wore big headphones over her long hair; presumably she was playing along to a click track, although she still seemed to struggle with the beat. The guitarist was barely a presence onstage, but then it was only her second show with the band.

"Homecoming" was, of course, the highlight. For their hit, Delafon invited a girl up from the audience to sing the female parts of the song, and though the volunteer didn't know all the verses (Delafon had to feed her lines) she sang the chorus's "I loved my English romance" with obvious delight, locking flirtatious eyes with the singer. The rest of the show was cute but kind of underwhelming, about what you'd expect from a young band for whom live shows were, until recently, not even an afterthought. In no way did it diminish my enthusiasm for their forthcoming debut, Reality Check, maybe the first blissfully perfect pop trifle of 2008.


Now, about assholes: The next night at the same venue was Dan Deacon's Ultimate Reality tour. Openers the Intelligence were the best I've ever seen them—nervy, uptight, sounding not unlike Miracle Chosuke or more recent Numbers on certain songs. And Ultimate Realitya DVD projection accompanied by two live drummers—was more impressive in its live form than on a laptop screen. The projection was brighter and more vivid, the sound more enveloping, and the interlocking live drumming was athletic, like BOADRUM minus 75 drummers. Jimmy Joe Roche read the intertitles in a comic hurry, bungling names and cutting sentences. In the back of the room, Dan Deacon steadied the massive tripod that supported their DVD projector.

For his solo set, Deacon lowered his table of electronics onto the floor, hoisted his trademark neon green skull onto a pike (the hoisting of this freak flag elicited ridiculously huge cheers), and proceeded to complain about my review of Ultimate Reality from last week's paper.

"Have you ever had to play a show after reading a really bad review of yourself in the Seattle Stranger that says you ripped off your friends?" he asked. "Let's just try to expunge that from our minds."

I understand the appeal of Dan Deacon's live show. He's a natural entertainer—funny and absurd and (usually) relentlessly positive. But with a few exceptions—"Crystal Cat," "Wham City"—the music just feels like it's there to pad out his odd monologues and audience-participation stunts. It's like watching Tim Harrington or Atom & His Package without any of the songwriting, and being friends with Paper Rad (ooh) doesn't make his aesthetic any less of a melted-down pastiche. Still, when he finally launched into "Crystal Cat," by far the catchiest song from last year's Spiderman of the Rings, the crowd became a surging mosh pit, speckled with flashes of Day- Glo apparel.

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I took off, but apparently later Deacon accused me of having not even watched Ultimate Reality (which I did) before writing my review and complained that I shouldn't have been on the guest list for the show if I'm such a hater (so much for expunging). No one's ever going to accuse Deacon of not being tacky, but what kind of guy needs to bitch about one bad review in front of a 400-person-deep crowd of rabid, wild-eyed fans? I'm just one critic not drinking the Kool-Aid, dude. No need to be an asshole about it. recommended

egrandy@thestranger.com