By Brandon Weigel
4:36 PM EDT, September 16, 2012
If electronic musician Dan Deacon is anything, he is fiercely loyal to his adopted hometown of Baltimore.
Last night's sold-out show at the Ottobar wasn't so much a coronation; that ship has long since sailed. Rather, its familiar dance party feel, high energy and many nods to Charm City made it seem more like a warm hug from an old friend.
As he and his three-piece backing band worked through old staples and many of the songs from his most recent album, "America," Deacon's performance showed the dynamical qualities of his newest works and the maintained ability to create ecstatic dance parties with manic blasts of electronic noise.
It felt like the all-Baltimore bill was writing an open love letter to the scene and warehouses from which they came.
Members of the opening acts played in Deacon's band, and two of those opening acts covered songs by other Baltimore bands. When Deacon played "Wham City," his homage to the Baltimore arts collective of the same name, a collage of photos of Wham City members appeared on the screen behind him. And twice, Deacon covered the theme song to The Ed Schrader Show, a surrealist talk show hosted by fellow Wham City member Ed Schrader.
You can take them out of the warehouse, but you can't take that warehouse spirit from them.
Things kicked off with a brief comedy bit from Alan Resnick, who played a sort of Billy Mays-Ron Popeil hybrid, hawking the ability to create your own avatar using nothing but a computer. Without giving too much away, let's just say things don't go as planned, and hilarity, naturally, ensues. Comedy might feel out of place at most shows, but Resnick's absurdist humor was more often than not a hit.
The first music act was a solo performance by Chester Endersby Gwazda, a local producer who has worked with Deacon and Future Islands and, later in the show, served as Deacon's synth player and backup vocalist.
Backed by nothing but a computer and a bank of bright lights, Gwazda played tight guitar-pop songs that drew inspiration from genres as diverse as dub, electro-pop and shoegaze.
Though his singing abilities are somewhat limited, Gwazda showed a real knack for crafting a hook-heavy indie pop song. He took the bouncy Future Islands deep cut "Changing Your Life" and added thick layers of guitar distortion, keeping the song's hooks intact while also giving it new depth and heaviness. He's another act in the cabal of Baltimore musicians worth keeping an eye on.
Veteran rapper Height took the stage with Kevin O'Meara on drums (he's one of the drummers in Deacon's band), Jen Rice playing guitar and Gavin Riley working the pre-programmed beats and serving as a backing MC.
The blues-rock instrumentation served as a nice complement to Height's deliberate flow. New tracks "Hard Work" and "I Can't Stand to be Refused" off the appropriately titled new album "Rock and Roll" were more heavy rockers than traditional rap tracks, but Height demonstrated his continued development as an MC and the band's performance sounded crisp.
Deacon, joined by Gwazda, O'Meara and a second drummer, Jeremy Hyman, after playing the first "Ed Schrader Show" theme cover and instructing the crowd to repeat a humorous dialogue about the sitcom "Frasier," tore through the ecstatic dance-heavy "Crystal Cat" in a performance that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
For the melodically fuzzy track "True Thrush," fans were instructed for the first time to take out their iPhones to use Deacon's revolutionary show app.
In a moment that can only be described as pure joy, fans waved their phones, which the app had programmed to alternate colors on the screen and illuminate the phone’s camera flash, as Deacon and Gwazda harmonized the soaring "Ah-ah"s of the chorus with what looked like hundreds of fireflies in the crowd beneath them. The pairing of the ebullient song and the powerful visuals was simply spectacular.
Other tracks from "America," such as the wall of fuzz "Crash Jam," the layered electronic blast of "Lots" and the abrasive noise of "Guilford Avenue Bridge," fit in rather nicely with set staples "Snookered," "Wham City" and "Paddling Ghost."
For a finisher, Deacon and his band went with pastoral four-part suite "USA," a grouping of songs that features horns and orchestral strings intertwined with the electronics.
Compared to most of Deacon's catalog, it is far more minimal. But the carefully crafted arrangements, tonal shifts and meditative stretches were nothing if not a beautiful, providing a particularly effective close to the show.
And after a musical contemplation of the country writ large, Deacon brought everything back home, thanking the crowd and many of his friends for coming out.
"Please a round of applause for the Ottobar," he said, "for existing for 15 [expletive] years."
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