Sep 28, 2012

On the scene: Dirty Projectors, Port Chester NY, 9.25.12

The DP's latest album, Swing Lo Magellan (Domino Records)

Reviewed by Liz Maher exclusively for Stupefaction - thanks Liz!:

“Poor Chesta,” David Longstreth incredulously pronounced at the opening of The Dirty Projector’s gig at Westchester’s newly refurbished Capitol Theater on 9/25/12. For a moment it flashed through my head that Longstreth was making a heartfelt reference to Linkin’ Park. But no, he was just in a state of sleepy disbelief and sounded as though he had dozed off on the B46 and wound up at the Capitol by accident. He did look a little unwashed, too.

I never thought of the Projectors as a guitar band until this show, but Longstreth’s and the diminutive Amber Coffman’s highly thoughtful arrangements made it clear they are one - with a whole lot of harmonizing thrown in. (Continued after the jump.)

They switched out guitars (mostly Fenders) after each song, making for (mostly) precise tuning and about 28 changes throughout the show. Longstreth’s hands are fascinating to watch. Even Longstreth, himself, stares, lost in his own thoughtfully awkward strumming. At times he looks stupefied by the riffs he is producing as if he is listening to Buckethead on his i-pod while sleepwalking through Projector chord changes- Damn! Forgot to bend the strings on the EG progression! Seeing the band live, you appreciate Longstreth’s understated but impressive peddle-work. In the Projector’s music, you catch references to Prince, Dylan, Neil Young, the Velvets, the Who, Jorma Kaukonen, the theme from MASH, etc… but in an obsessively precise interpretation. Precise, yet still awkward enough to retain that DIY music feel. In fact, sometimes they sound like a Christmas musical performed by Japanese folk singers. They never just throw back and wail. With the Projectors, everything is a measured cadence. While more musically skilled than contemporaries Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells, they are not as peppy. The Projectors have accomplished that rare feat of playing at the exact speed of a “How to Play That” video for their own songs. In another era, I would suspect a smack stupor; here Ritalin is the likely culprit.

Physically, the band seems disconnected, as though they were assembled randomly to create music or re-create Projector music. Longstreth looks like a faux-eccentric, arty collegiate. Coffman is all-American girl-next-door. Olga Bell, a preppie tennis player-like chippie, Haley Dekle, a NJ hairdresser while the rhythm section appears to be well-adjusted, non-eccentric, non-arty collegiates. It’s not a brand look, no coordinated effort of dress or demeanor, only vocal ensembles. They hardly sold out the show, but the few who did attend were young and enthusiastic, singing, dancing and clapping. Evidently, no sense of history makes for a better time. Longstreth seemed puzzled by both an empty balcony section and a large, disturbed man who kept screaming “Let’s Go!” while flailing his arms. Ahh, Dear Security Staff: Help him go!

Longstreth and company covered mostly songs off their latest Swing Lo Magellan with a few Bitte Orca tunes thrown in. They opened with the album's title track, Swing Lo Magellan, not so good, but steadily improved as the vocals of the females came into play with Offspring Are Blank, which starts off gospelly, only to rock out guitar explosions faintly reminiscent of the Who. Check out Dirty Projector youtube vids with Bjork for the full wall of weird noise effect.

About to Die showed off the harmonizing genius the Projectors are known for or as Longstreth puts it, “flowers within the bouquet of sound.” Dreamy lyrics about nothing, with a nice vocal interplay typical of the Projectors. In the band’s own words, “That doesn’t make any sense, what you just said.”

Longstreth, a natural director, instructed the audience to clap in a certain manner. Coffman’s voice can’t support The Socialites (maybe turn up the vocals since the song usually sounds better?) but Gun Has No Trigger was a crowd pleaser with its Jesus Christ Superstar cum James Bond bass-heavy sound arrangement. The highpoint of the show was the nicely vocalized and complex songs Cannibal Resources and See What She SeeingWittenberg IV is also a beautiful song, but the Sound of Music yodeling interchanged with handclapping is disconcerting and veered into Magnetic Fields kitsch. Was that the point? No Intention just got lost with no intent. In tune, but no tone. Longstreth’s psychedelically soulful, Maybe That Was It is fine, but his vocals fail on the sci-fi Just From Chevron. My friend thought he sounded sometimes like Rufus Wainwright and sometimes like a spoiled, rich Yalie brat. He did whine at one point that since he hadn’t performed in 3 weeks, his fingers were still like sticks to his i-phone but de-calloused enough to make playing guitar hurt. I felt much better when I realized he was suffering for art.

The evening's setlist
Useful Chamber and Unto Caesar featured amazing vocal transitions, nice guitar work and a funky baseline on Unto Caesar. Projectors only played one encore song, Stillness Is the Move, a mellifluous but disappointing closing. The show seemed too short. They probably planned to play more songs (the set list had additional songs than they played,) but due to the disappointing turn out kept it brief. Their set design is simple but among the best. Summary: Dirty Projectors at the Capitol Theatre gets a B for great band, half-speed show, pour some booze…

Also of note is the venue. The Capitol Theatre has just been re-opened after a refurbishment. They are clearly marketing to the 30-40 year old suburban crowd. The place is clean and un-moldy, lacking the smell of spilled beer and urine-rotted carpet-for now. The Cap gets extra credit for the Iggy Pop wallpaper, white marble bathrooms and gilded squirrel columns that my friend said were reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s Anti-Christ. Bob Dylan recently played the Cap and, strangely, the litigation-prone J. Geils Band is scheduled for later this fall. The Cap should probably charge less for tickets until they become more established. Better line-ups are also strongly recommended. 

Dirty Projectors - official website
Dirty Projectors - on Amazon

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