I need a late pass on David Longstreth and the musicians who these days make up Dirty Projectors. I hadn’t listened to them before I did some prep for last night’s show earlier this week.
Shame on me.
The intrigue began at the name. A dirty projector, whose images are skewered and fractured, obscuring but simultaneously revealing things missed in an uncluttered viewing. The spastic Longstreth led the assembled audience on a 90-minute trek that explored—and joyously reveled in— the sounds made possible when things aren’t quite right. Such an aesthetic is true even down to his voice, a swooping multi-octave warble that’s somewhere between Cee-Lo, Tom Verlaine, Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), and his recent collaborator, David Byrne.
It was very easy to hear the sounds of Longstreth’s influences, a mix of things that don’t usually go together but somehow work in the hands of these musicians. He spoke of many of these Thursday night at the “Making Music” interview, everything from the Beatles, Fugazi, Black Flag, Pavement, the Beach Boys, to Wagner and Mahler to West African guitar and hocket patterns. This last element, a musical technique found throughout the world where two voices alternate in quick succession, was performed expertly throughout the show, not just between vocalists, like on their version of “Gimmie Gimmie,” but also between keyboards, vocalists, and Longstreth’s electric guitar.
This last song, from Rise Above was originally done—very differently—by Black Flag, whose music Longstreth “re-wrote from memory,” aiming not for faithful reproduction, but rather a reimagining through his own wide-ranging musical sensibility. Even though the sounds of Black Flag aren’t anywhere near Longstreth’s “version,” the spirit hasn’t evaporated in the glittering guitar lines and cherubic harmonies. Brian Mcomber’s drumming had to be rock-solid, because Longstreth isn’t always the most precise guitarist, going for expression more than strict temporal synchronization. The shifting, interlocking rhythmic patterns, both intentional and unintentional, kept everybody on their toes, audience included.
The three women serving as both backing instrumentalists and vocalists—Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle—seemed to channel the Rheinmaidens from Wagner’s Ring, three densely harmonizing sopranos that set the 16-hour epic in motion. While it was tragically hard to hear them at times, when they did emerge, their Louvin Brothers-meets-the-Beach Boys close harmonies were astoundingly precise and moving.
Many of the songs last night were from their far-too-off album Bitte Orca, to be released in June on Domino. Longstreth candidly admitted that they had only played some of these songs once or twice before. The best of this bunch was “Temecula Sunrise,” which Longstreth also performed in a scaled-down version Thursday night at the “Making Music” event. Its chorus, set amidst a utopian vision of abandoned suburbs brimming with skate-punks and other folks usually unwelcome, offered a glorious illustration of making music as the sun comes over the horizon of a new day.
This night, however, ended with Longstreth, Coffman, and Deradoorian just in front of the crowd to perform an entirely unamplified encore. This moment of intimacy set the audience down gently from their sonic travels, although there was a palpable desire in the crowd for more. For many of them, June’s release, and the tour that will hopefully follow and bring Dirty Projectors back to the Cities, can’t come soon enough.
UPDATE: MFR has videos of a few songs performed at the Walker.