The last time Darren Keen – the brains, lungs, heart and soul behind The Show Is The Rainbow – blew through town, he and the three other members of TSITR: Tour Edition were filling the balcony room of Blue Nile with his signature brand of electro-psych-hop and freakout theatrics during the 2010 Foburg Music Festival. Though buried within the cacophony of a wall-to-wall block party, the flipped-out backing tracks and the avant-garde live component of the performance set The Show Is The Rainbow apart from most of the festival’s other acts in my hazy, disjointed memory of the weekend.
When the most recent leg of his massive and nearly non-stop touring schedule brought him to New Orleans, Keen showed up at Siberia with little more than a laptop, a portable LCD projector and a bed sheet that had been fashioned into a video screen. This, apparently, is the most common line-up of the band, as The Show Is The Rainbow has only occasionally hit the road as anything more than a one-man show. Lucky, then, that it is without a guitar in his hand, a stage under his feet or supporting musicians at his side, that Keen’s prolific and fascinating personality truly comes into sharp focus.
Among the many dynamic features of Darren Keen’s tour de force live show – dizzying compositions equal parts psychedelic glitch-hop and fat-bass rap breaks; frantic lyrical delivery that alternates between rapid-cypher fire and sing-songy falsetto; and non-stop motion in, above, below and beyond the crowd – it was his lucid denouncements of mainstream standards and practices – both spoken and in song – that stuck with me the most. His beef with Conor Oberst is long-standing and has been well documented, but Keen also takes issue with the entire wave of overly-affected, form-over-function indie divas he feels are sucking the fun out of real, honest music.
Coming from a shirtless dude who just finished rolling around on the dirty floor of a Bywater bar – a floor peppered with splotches of the fake blood novelty shock-popper Rhodes employed in his opening set – such proclamations would have rang hollow if they weren’t so thoroughly earnest. The time Keen spent deriding all the phonies, clowns and gold-bricking music industry frauds was equaled only by his repeated conveyance of overflowing gratitude for every cover-paying, jaw-dropped member of the audience who took the time and effort to support the latest edition of his nearly perpetual world tour.
In a culture that often misappropriates phrases like “alt” and “indie” as shallow shorthand for whatever happens to be “new” and/or “trendy”, a TSITR performance is nothing short of revelatory; one that momentarily re-brands those along for the wild ride as a triumphant band of outsiders in perfect lockstep with Keen’s magnificent vision for a truly alternative musical reality.