Dirty Projectors live!

Dirty Projectors at the 930

Courtesy of their website, which is user friendly, helpful, informational and well designed, Dirty Projectors have photos. They aren’t typical live shots. Which highlights the unusual nature of this Brooklyn Band.

Essentially this group is the brain child of  David Longstreth.  With a few line up changes,  Dirty Projectors have been putting out records since 2003. It wasn’t until their 2009 record, Bitte Orca, that they grabbed the full attention of music lovers, myself included. Their latest release, Swing Lo Magellan, is out on Domino. I promise it will be a highlight of the year.

Characterized as ‘experimental’, and as I overheard that they are “experimental. Which isn’t rock. It’s experimental,” sometimes their records can be unsettling to listen to. And an acquired taste.  [But either way, when did something that was labeled ‘experimental’ lose it’s heading? Last time I checked ‘experimental movies’ are still movies because they’re made with cameras and actors. And rock music is made with guitars, drums and bass.] Rock music doesn’t sound like itself and it doesn’t sound the same. Well, we hope it doesn’t sound the same. But when you are given a band like Dirty Projectors and they sound unlike anything else out there, you have to welcome them with open arms. They are dissonant. They have  unpredictable hand clap patterns. Their music progresses and it has movements. David Longstreth uses a right handed guitar upside-down and keeps a capo on it, which changes the pitch of the instrument. I had never thought about how their sounds were made. I was just always impressed how my brain moves in and out of them. Dirty Projectors challenge their listeners to be patient. We need to see the whole picture. And seeing it live made it all come together.

Swing Lo Magellan doesn’t rock as hard as Bitte Orca. Although it is also full of guitar choruses and patterned electronic sounds, the record is heavy with vocal performance, hand claps and acoustic presence. The set they played at DC’s 930 club was certainly electric. (Having sold out quickly, a second night was added. Support both nights from Baltimore’s Wye Oak.)

I could talk forever about how their stage presence was a big part of who they are. And how their light projection set design was at times simple, so you could get lost in their busy music they made, and complex at other times – just to jumble your brain.  I could talk about how often guitars were exchanged. But overall, so many things about this band is strange and satisfying.

My favorite thing about this group is their dual lead singers, David Longstreth and Amber Coffman. It adds a depth to the sound. Between a man and woman’s voice you can do a whole lot more. Men and women collaborating in music not only provides different ideas and methods but its a different kind of interaction within the band. (Or so Jack White says. Paraphrasing: any all man band can change with one woman added. Apparently it less impressing and more creating. As you know, I trust him.)

Amber Coffman joined the Projectors in 2007 after  a brief time playing guitar with the San Diego band, Sleeping People. Her vocal performance and contribution to this band is noteworthy. (She also co-wrote a lot of the record.) She is a powerhouse of sound. Standing small in every way you can, Coffman belts it out. She can lead the band and the three part harmonies that frequent their records. The most impressive part of the evening was when Coffman and their backing vocalists, Haley Dekle and Olga Bell (who both play keys and synth) sang three parts a-capella while Longstreth sang another lead. Their closed eyes engaged you in their concentration. While Coffman is also skilled on the guitar, you can see her emerge on stage as a vocalist. She walked around with the mic like a pop star for some songs. While Longstreth always looked happy to share the spotlight with her. I love that about this group. There are six of them (Nat Baldwin and Michael Johnson the remaining two) and they each play a very important role to their output. For a group that harnesses non-traditional sounds, their sold out tour and national press coverage promises the fans something. Dirty Projectors are excellent musicians and poets.  They are guitar techs and a choir of leading voices. They are detailed and complex. And they are themselves.

Dance For You  has remained stuck in my head for days after. Swing Lo Magellan is a year favorite. It’s become a record I cannot skip forward during. Just like Bitte Orca, it took me some time to fall in love with it, but now I can’t put it down. You should pick it up.

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