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SXSW 2011: Dan Deacon at Cheer Up Charlie's

Midnight Sun alum Sam Sessa saw Dan Deacon play SXSW last week:

In the past few years, a bunch of Baltimore musicians have signed record deals, toured internationally and earned gushing reviews from critics.

But none have been more successful than Dan Deacon, who, perhaps more than anyone else, helped put Baltimore's music scene on the map.

So when Deacon belatedly announced one -- and only one -- date at last week's South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, it immediately became a must-see. Several hundred eager hipsters and other Deacon fans crammed into an outdoor venue called Cheer Up Charlie's to try and catch a glimpse of the gleefully eccentric musician.

Only the folks in the front few rows actually got to see him. Deacon likes to set up and perform on the ground or floor, so that he's level with the audience. He likes to get down and dirty, so to speak. And that's just what happened Saturday night in Austin.

It had been hot and dry all week, and soon after Deacon's set began, the crowd's close-quarters dancing kicked up clouds of dust. Deacon wrapped a cloth around his face to keep from inhaling too much, but the rest of us weren't so lucky (when I blew my nose the next day, my snot was black).

But Deacon's show made it all worthwhile. It was the best all-around performance I saw all week --  wacky, energetic and utterly original. It was everything we've come to know and love about Deacon, in a roughly hour-long set. He sang along to backing tracks, using effects pedals to tweak his voice, and occasionally playing a small keyboard.

As soon as the music started, the crowd surged forward, nearly swallowing Deacon's small setup. Then, when the beat from the first song hit, the moshing started. It was nothing like a punk show (these were hipsters after all), but there were still plenty of crowd-surfing and love shoves.

A few new songs made appearances in Deacon's set (he vaguely promised a new album in the next several months). The new stuff had more straightforward dance beats, a break from the spastic rhythms of much of his past work.

The show's heavy hitters were the thumping "Crystal Cat" and "Wham City," Deacon's ode to the Baltimore arts collective he and several others founded. "Wham City" was an epic way to close out the show, which ended with a searing synth riff, which melted into noise.

After the show, a young woman who'd been dancing next to me told me how jealous she was that I came from Baltimore. I left Cheer Up Charlie's, sopping in sweat, and knowing I probably wouldn't see another set as good as Deacon's. I didn't.

Photo: Dan Deacon performing at Cheer Up Charlies (Sam Sessa)

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