Opening and closing with straightforward folk songs, and performing 11 out of 12 out their hour away from being released follow-up to their breakthrough album, 4 off their breakthrough album and 1 from the Bjork collaboration, in 75 minutes (average song length? four minutes) on the first night in the US (and fifth date) of their 2012 Summer tour.
Streamed by Bowery Presents and YouTube, Monday nights concert at MHOW was an important gig for band leader Dave Longstreth and his band. For the first time in years they had a new set to toy with and sell, and while playing at Ground Zero, Music Hall Of Williamsburg, so with the house money, a mistake would've been deadly. The band didn't make one.
The last time I saw the experimental rock band was at this very venue in 2009 and an unknown opening act (at the time) Tune-Yards was much much better. Dirty Projectors were flat and tired and the songs an intricate meshing of guitar clogs and voices, as if the sheer concentration was wearing them out. Two years later and with a new drummer, Mike Johnson, and the band is bouncier, more relaxed and groovier. An opening 25 minutes with only the worst song on the newbie, Swing Lo Magellan, "Gun Has No Trigger" as dry land has them bobble without sinking. After the set (and title track) opener, you get five songs of as close to standard issue DP: off-pitch, skewered on a kebob by the left handed guitar slinger. But if the songs aren't great, they aren't bad, and DP go their own way. At Gov's Ball , whether the band was indie pop sophisticates or Goth electronic vamps, every song ended with an extended jam. DP move with assurance from song to song, making their point and leaving their point.
The audience appreciate it and I don't not appreciate it, despite not much knowing of the material. But a scintillating "Cannibal Resource" is the watershed moment, as the band plays with the career making lick and one of the most abstract lyrics known to man. Longstreth with his facing in the wrong direction guitar, dirty straight hair, and long lead body, looks weirdly every collegiate boy cum rock star. When he sings he opens his mouth very, very wide and seems like a cross between giraffe and a dinosaur. It is visually arresting and though he doesn't seriously take on the audience, he doesn't seem as protracted as a Chris Owens, he is serious without being self serious.
Now we're cooking, "Beautiful Mother" is the vocal performance of the night. Amber Coffman performs Bjork's parts, Haley Dekle and Olga Bell back up, and the songs soar so high and strange like a huge tower built on jello. Amber has taken the lead or sung back up all night long, and the first song of the encore is the masterpiece "Stillness Is The Night" but this was her great moment. On the very next song, the band finds its grooves as new drummer Mike Johnson hits his cymbals to bounce the song along. and the last song before the encore "Unto Ceaser" is Dirty Projectors, all systems go, a hi-lo dance number in hiding, the marching band "Unto Caesar".
The band play a three song encore and leave the best for last. "Impregnable Question", a straightforward love song, one that hipsters should offer to their loves for the rest of their lives. It is a new standard. and a reminder that DP are not just a pop music abattoir. This simple song closes the evening new to where it started but with the distance of a top band succeeding in introducing a new set with precession and passion.