New Year’s Eve can most certainly unmask the nuttiness of any given city, but for those with a fruitful and thriving music scene, it’s an occasion to celebrate the rewarding year that’s been with optimism and excitement for what’s ahead.
Throughout 2023, Baltimore continued to shine as an important hub not only for musicians hailing from the Charm City or those who might now call it home, but for the many who visit on an annual basis to play to eager, attentive folks from all walks of life.
Fitting it was to welcome in this New Year at one of the city’s most storied venues with one of its most impressive artists, a human who continues to build an unbelievable resume and push his own boundaries as a brilliant composer and a master of electronic music devices.
Dan Deacon assembled a cast of outstanding musicians and close friends to present the Dan Deacon Ensemble at Ottobar on New Year’s Eve, selling out the joint and serving up a set of his most momentous and moving compositions in their plenitude as part of an unforgettable year-end bash.
Revisit Dan Deacon’s incredible 2020 studio album, Mystic Familiar, via Spotify:
Dan ushered in 2023 on this same night on this same stage a year ago. But this time around he was joined by a large gang, a group featuring drummer Jeremy Hyman (Animal Collective), bassist Devlin Rice (Ed Schrader’s Music Beat), and numerous members of Mind on Fire — a cooperative in Baltimore showcasing city musicians in a collaborative manner.
At Ottobar on Dec. 31, the loaded roster boasted celloist Peter Kibbe, violinist Ruby Fulton, violist Karin Kilper, bassoonist James David Young, trombonist Sarah Manley, trumpeter Victoria Banos, flutist Stephanie Ray, saxophonist David Diongue, and vocalists Allison Clendaniel, Melody Easton, and Kristen Toedtman.
With such a potent team of skilled players in such an intimate place for a such a special purpose, Dan and his pals served up his awe-inspiring, life-altering songs with triumph as the Ottobar shimmered and burst at its seams with merry ticketholders who’d dressed to the nines for this flashy formal affair on North Howard Street.
Deacon himself was dazzling in a polka-a-dot leisure suit as attendees were treated to a list of magnificent pieces, including “Become A Mountain” and the stunning “Weeping Birch,” which had never been performed live until this past weekend. Thanks to the lineup of instrumentalists on stage, some of whom have recorded with Dan in the past, it seemed none of his creations were out of reach and none too daunting.
Behind his colorful homemade control center — an ever-evolving organism, it seems — Dan conducted powerfully kaleidoscopic arrangements from across his catalogue that have helped attract world-renown movie stars and directors to his orb. He came out of the pandemic years to work on a variety of high-profile projects, and this past year saw one of his tracks featured on the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla — he’d scored a horror film for her father more than a decade earlier.
Listen to Dan Deacon’s latest work, the soundtrack to the Netflix film, King of Clones, via Spotify:
But Dan’s doesn’t seem to make it about himself, and by bringing other notable musicians and the MIB squad to the party, he turned the night at Ottobar into a victory lap for the entire city and the devoted music supporters within it.
As expected, he also transformed the room into his trademark dance contest / exhibition, and his requests for participation were met with enthusiasm by limber characters who twirled, high-kicked and exulted in the moment. Some discovered moves they never knew they had and nary a single body in the place could fend off the groove.
As the night went on, Deacon shared tidbits about the music and heaped praise on his fellow performers. And he thanked the audience too, with the consideration that, as he pointed out, the final evening of the year can stir anxiety for many.
“I’m so fucking proud of you,” he cussed. “It means a lot that you came.”
Reflecting on the previous year with a nod toward those who’ve left us, he encouraged attendees to keep reaching out to their friends who didn’t make it to the show that night, perhaps someone who could use some consolation.
“Keep inviting them to shows,” he said. “Keep letting them know that you love them, that they’re important to you.”
Dan’s done so much to enhance the city’s art community and its neighborly vibe since he moved to Maryland in 2004, yet he pointed the attention to the Ottobar itself and its dedicated staff, whom he applauded for keeping Baltimore’s spirit strong and its scene flourishing.
“Places like this exist because people love places like this,” Dan said toward the end of the set, crushing bottled water and sharing his own deep appreciation for the 400-person space long considered a favorite by artists far and wide.
Behind him, a digital counter projected onto the stage wall had ticked down tens of thousands of seconds through the set and leading up the big moment. At the stroke of midnight, friends hugged, couples smooched, and everyone cheered as Dan and his mates greeted 2024 in truly remarkable fashion.
Become a Mountain
Of The Mountains
The Crystal Cat
Change Your Life
Learning to Relax
Arp (*not sure WHICH)
Fell Into The Ocean
Sat By A Tree
When I Was Done Dying
Feel The Lightning
Below is a festive spread — first some 35mm home-developed, home-scanned images, followed by some digital shots — of the Dan Deacon Ensemble, along with DJ Alex Silva, performing at Ottobar the night of Dec. 31, 2023 and on into 2024. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.
35mm Film Photos