Review and photos – Dirty Projectors at Venue, July 24 2012
– review by Shawn Conner/photos by Tamara Lee
David Longstreth is a little like Quentin Tarantino.
At a Dirty Projectors show (and on record), he’s instrumental in everything you’re seeing and hearing. But he’s best when he drops into the background and lets the girls take over.
Last night’s Dirty Projectors show at Venue in Vancouver was a case in point. Whenever Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle (both with the Projectors the last time they headlined in Vancouver, at Richard’s on Richards in 2009) and newcomer Olga Bell had the spotlight, the show was something special.
Coffman especially brings the heart and soul to the group’s songs, which sometimes are too clever for their own good. After all, this is a band that even finds a way to complicate handclaps (during one song, three members clap rhythmically along in different time signatures).
The ladies’ combined voices and the tricky vocal arrangements – which often also include Langstreth – are signatures of Dirty Projectors’ sound. This noise also features angular, vaguely African-sounding guitars and a rhythm section, bassist Nat Baldwin and drummer Michael Johnson, that often seems to suspend the music rather than move it forward (not that this is a bad thing).
For the Vancouver show, band performed in front of a simple white backdrop – two sheets hung against the back wall, covering Venue’s LED screen.
A four-piece version of the band started the show with the title track from Swing Lo Magellan before Dekle and Bell appeared for another Magellan tune, “Offspring Are Blank”. The latter features another Dirty Projectors signature, which is careful, intricate arrangements that explode into near (but never too near) chaos.
More tunes from the new album, including the slightly wonky “About to Die” – sung mostly by Longstreth, with backup vocals chiming in at the chorus on the word “die” – and the single “Gun Has No Trigger” followed before Dirty Projectors dusted off some tracks from 2009’s Bitte Orca as well as a tune from their collaboration with Bjork, Mount Wittenberg Orca.
A couple of these, including the Bjork track, sent the concert-goer next to me into paroxysms of joy; another audience member was heard (or misheard) to remark, “My ears are working.” This was the best assessment of the evening I can think of; my ears were working, and rarely relaxing.
For the most part, the effort was rewarded – Dirty Projectors is a unique, often beautiful thing, and at show’s end (following a three-song encore, including “Stillness is the Move”, perhaps Bitte Orca‘s best-known track) I felt satisfied, if not over-the-moon.
Speaking of which, Wye Oak, a band I’m more than fond of, opened. I’m not sure if it was because of the sound – not one word could be made out from where we were standing, at the foot of the stage – or if singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner was having an off-night, or if the duo is just better on record than live.
Whatever the case, the set was disappointingly sluggish, although the hurricane-force title track from last year’s Civilian album hinted at what it could have been.
More Dirty Projectors at Venue Vancouver photos: