Dan Deacon leads a New Year’s Eve bash at Ottobar in Baltimore on Dec. 31, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Any venue looking to host the ideal New Year’s Eve celebration — maybe not the most massive gathering, but a spirited and vivid ordeal — might be wise to lean on an artist who’s been asked to set the scene for so many different projects across the stage, the studio and screens both big and small.
To properly usher in 2023 this past weekend, Ottobar management was savvy to call upon Dan Deacon, a longtime friend of the venue and now, after nearly two decades in the Charm City, one of the leading figures in a scene boasting a list of talented, influential musicians known across the country and far beyond.
An electronic musician and composer with wizardly perspective and a rapidly expanding resume of high-profile work, Deacon is one of Baltimore’s most important and prolific artists, and one whose network has grown tremendously since he made his way to Maryland in 2004.
So, fitting it was for the 41-year-old to host a wildly kaleidoscopic, frolicking and inspiring dance party — a sold-out one — that saw Ottobar attendees rejoicing on Dec. 31 and boogying up to the stroke of midnight and on through the first couple hours of the initial day of this New Year.
Stream Dan Deacon’s 2020 studio album, Mystic Familiar, via Spotify:
Cold and rainy, it mattered not to the throng of celebrators who early in the evening high-stepped and grooved their way right to the dance floor, and many of whom have likely seen or even spoken directly to Dan himself since he settled here.
Perhaps one of the most in-demand and dynamic creators of his kind, the Long Island native came to the area having studied and trained under accomplished classical composers and conductors at the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase, snugged just north of New York City.
By the time he got here, he’d already performed in numerous outfits — yes, including playing tuba for Langhorne Slim — and had both compiled experimental recordings and made new ones in releasing a batch of his own digital albums and EPs, some on now sought-after CD-Rs.
In Baltimore, living at the Copycat Building, he quickly made a name for himself locally as a mind-blowing performer, one who pours sweat as he operates a perplexing collection of gadgets and, using a mix of distortion, effects and his natural intonation, surfs the waves of each song to yowl like some kind of shrewd cyber sage. Screeching, zanily peering through a hole made of his pointer finger and thumb, he illustrates his songs as having their own mind’s eye.
Dan released his first major studio album, Spiderman of the Rings, back in 2007 by way of DC’s Carpark Records, and he’s said himself it was a life-changing event, applauded by Pitchfork and others. Within a matter of years, he was scoring films for the likes of Francis Ford Coppola — even if Twixt as a film itself might have been a bit of a stinker, Dan did the music. And he’s since created the music for an impressive list of well received features and documentary films, including an ESPN 30 for 30 short, and he’s scored Netflix and cable series as well.
One of his most recent achievements speaks to the heights he’s risen: the soundtrack to the Netflix movie Hustle, which stars Adam Sandler in the leading role and features unique tracks and beautiful expansions of some of his previously recorded work, brought to life with the help of the London Contemporary Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
A savant of electronic and composed music who’s honed his knack for creating sounds for any given scenario, he now has five full-length studio albums under his belt, and those alone — work he views as distinctly separate from his scores — speak to a visionary always looking to augment himself.
In taking the Ottobar stage, he let the giddy crowd know he’d specifically told himself to avoid any sort of negativity or depressing subject matter, and somehow still ended up detailing his 2:45 a.m. search for Tums to combat “the worst acid reflux” of his life the night prior.
“This morning I was like, ‘don’t talk about indigestion,’” and yet there he was, with a grin and a glow.
While Dan has so many pots on the stove and might not be playing club shows rampantly at the moment, he’s still got hundreds of them under his belt, and his passion for hosting an unforgettably aerobic bash proved to be alive and well on New Year’s Eve and into Jan. 1. He was well above sea level where his control center couldn’t be seen, except for the folks crammed onto the upper level. But regardless of the viewing angle, he captivated in the way he was physically connected to every pulse of each composition, at times his eyes closed and his head tipped back.
“We’ve lived through many insane occurrences and bullshit, but nothing has even come close …,” he said, referring to the pandemic that derailed his opportunity to freshly tour Mystic Familiar, his most recent studio album released by Domino Recording Company just as the virus took hold.
“It’s been beautiful to endure it with all of you,” Deacon said. “It means a lot to me that you’re here and that this is how you want to spend your time coming into the New Year.”
A set featuring some of his most popular pieces, fans absorbed dramatic, flashing takes on “The Crystal Cat” from his 2007 album and “Sat By A Tree” from his 2020 release. Giving everything he had, Dan was on his knees at one point, trying to get the last drop out of a bottle of water before he signaled to someone who then brought a half case to the stage.
Making use of a bevy of his own fixtures as well as the house lighting to hallucinatory effect, the combination of sights and sounds made it the quintessential environment for a New Year’s countdown.
Listen to some of Dan Deacon’s recent soundtrack work, the music to the Netflix film Hustle, via Spotify:
Of course, Dan — who loves to make people chuckle — had fun plans for this aspect of the evening too, as a projection screen on the back of the wall displayed a continuous ticker winding down the seconds to midnight.
Beginning around 10,000, the crowd would cheer with drinks held high each time the counter passed another thousand seconds, and Deacon himself would ultimately lead a ridiculous march to the final moment, drawing laughs and testing the meddle of those who’d been hydrating for several hours, starting somewhere around “45 … 44 … 43 …”
But as planned, at the stroke of 2023, Dan spearheaded the basking with enormous, multi-hued balloons bounced into the crowd — and some of those were very quickly destroyed by the house ceiling fans, the loud pops adding a bit of a zest to the moment.
And as expected and customary to most Dan Deacon shows, the New Year brought with it an early dance competition/expose, and two chosen characters, Kevin and Al, were good sports in serving as guinea pigs and coaxing the room into what became an all-out jamboree of absolute silliness.
All the while, with his quick wit and down-to-earth personality, Dan delighted with the mic, setting the scene perfectly not just with the layers of his journeying songs but with his hyper-aware commentary as well.
He called himself a “perpetual optimistic nihilist” who thinks life in general “gets better while it gets worse.”
He acknowledged what he called the “ever-flowing system of shit under our feet,” encouraging everyone to continue doing their part to effectively dismantle our current system of capitalism, which he said would ultimately be the blame for “no ocean, no forest, no eyes to see it.”
“Happy New Year, everyone,” he cracked with a dry tone to close the rant.
But ultimately, he’d offer more genuine optimism in the form of “Become A Mountain,” arguably one of his most ambitious and stunning offerings in which he masterfully wields his natural voice through powerfully reflective, provoking lyrics:
“I rose up / Tired in my flesh / Getting old now / I’m so lucky / Yet I forget I’m still hungry / For the future / On this day before me / Will I seize it or scroll. … All of time / Is right here / Is right now.”
In mirroring the spirit of this song, he coached the audience to resolve to consistently pick itself up in 2023, adding that “life will test you for a while, but you get up.”
Watch the Domino Recording Company’s short film on the making of Dan Deacon’s latest solo album, Mystic Familiar, via YouTube:
For anyone who didn’t already know it, they certainly learned this past weekend that Deacon’s music has come a long way. What began with DIY burned CDs that he sold himself has evolved into uncommon compositions charged with unmatched energy and a range of emotion, with a sense of hope or assuredness or even fortitude rising above all else.
A peculiar stickler it seems in how he prefers to cultivate music, Dan’s work has attracted the attention of many, especially in the world of cinema, where some of his most amazing work has been done and is likely still yet to be done. As he has discussed himself, his score projects are lending themselves to what could be presentations for seated concert audiences, and so his live electronic sets could very well become rarer as time moves along.
But whatever the case, in rooting for an enduring figure who’s made music for a range of purposes, one can only hope Dan can keep building out his own solo catalogue of songs that are terrific played through any stereo but even more remarkable and fulfilling when delivered in person by the intriguing man himself.
Here are images of Dan Deacon, along with Moss of Aura, performing at Ottobar in Baltimore the night of Dec. 31, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
Moss of Aura