Live: Dirty Projectors Celebrate New Sonic Territories At Prospect Park
Dirty Projectors w/Wye Oak, Purity Ring
Celebrate Brooklyn! Prospect Park Bandshell
Tuesday, July 10
Better than: An album listening party.
There's a general struggle for artists with new records when playing a live show, especially before or on the day of the album release. In today's age of leaks and early preview streams, bands have to assume that some people will hear their newest release before coming to see them live. Similarly, they have to appreciate the fact that not everyone will be super familiar with their new material, and pepper in some old classics. Finding that balance can be tricky and it can take bands a couple of album cycles to get it right so that everyone has a great time with songs they love and songs that they will grow to embrace.
Or... you could go the Dirty Projectors route and just play your entire new album (minus one song) and pepper in only your most popular old cuts. At last night's Prospect Park Bandshell show, this strategy paid off royally for one very key reason: the band's newest album, Swing Lo Magellan, is their best release front-to-back, balancing their catchiest tracks with the type of tricky material that the band is known for (at least by those who listened to Bitte Orca past "Stillness is the Move"). Also helping matters is that the band is tight live; there was not a missed moment or note, and lead singer/mastermind Dave Longstreth kept the pace moving with some light banter. It left a lot of room in the brisk 16-song set (how often do you get to say that?) for tracks to move around as necessary.
The early highlight from the set mirrors the early highlight from the album: "Offspring Are Blank" take a page from openers Wye Oak and pushes the soft-loud dynamic to an exhilarating end. The backup female singers vocalizing contrasts perfectly with Longstreth's pleading verses and yell-singing in the chorus; also appreciated is the classic rock-infused solo in the middle, which went over surprisingly well with a crowd that was still finding its groove six songs in. Of course, perhaps they were still reeling from the previous song, "The Socialites," which features secondary singer Amber Coffman taking lead. Her voice provided a reprieve from the more shouty male vocals that dominate almost every DP song. She also has a fun stage presence, jumping around the entire length and interacting with band members and audience alike.
For those who had inexplicably found about Dirty Projectors via their collaboration with Björk, "Beautiful Mother" anchored the middle of the set with a bit of whimsy. All three of the female members provided gang vocals for this track, sounding like quite like an angelic chorus that got pissed at its audience. Two songs later, another standout from Swing Lo Magellan made its appearance, as "Just From Chevron" took center-stage as one of the few songs that features heavy doses of both Longstreth and Coffman on lead vocals. It's weirdo-folk at its best, and by the looks of the people around that were swaying but not quite dancing, it was also one of the better received new tracks.
But where were the popular songs, you ask? Well, the Dirty Projectors song, as far as most people are concerned, opened up the encore. "Stillness Is The Move" is polarizing for a variety of reasons, but it's undeniably stirring in a live setting, something that makes you want to, well, move. Coffman shined here, unsurprisingly, hitting every note and sometimes extending them to show off her vocal strength (one of the later notes lasted about six seconds by my count, all at excruciatingly high levels). The crowd seemed to either regain strength from the encore break or just conjure it up for this song, because there was not a single person standing still within a 20-body radius of me. The guitar lick in the song propelled a bit further in the mix, which gave the song more of a snarl than it has on record (where it has been accused of being too saccharine).
Bitte Orca opener "Cannibal Resource" followed in quick succession, hopefully satisfying those who own that album on vinyl and know every single chord change. Finally, as the night hit 10 o'clock, Dirty Projectors played themselves out with the gorgeous Swing Lo Magellan cut "Impregnable Question," leaving the masses to sing along with its ending lines as they shuffled to the subway: "You're my love/And I want you in my life."
Wye Oak served as openers (along with Purity Ring, whose set I mostly missed because of train issues), which is a shame, because they need longer sets to establish their tropes and strengths. They revel in sucking you in with clean guitars, Andy Stack's slow drums, and Jenn Wasner's haunting voice before blasting you with more reverb and power than you can handle. However, in short doses, there's not enough of the quiet part, which means that the Baltimore duo can sound a bit rough to newcomers.
Playing a huge outdoor venue also did them no favors, as the distortion had too much room to roam around. That being said, their eight-song set was strong throughout, featuring three new songs (including what Wasner called a disco song featuring Stack on bass) and standouts from their stunning 2011 release Civilian. The title track from the album is the best of the bunch, and it was used to close out the set. Wasner took advantage of its longer periods of clarity to showcase how appealing her vocals are, before blasting into the winding finale. It was thrilling, and it made it all the more disappointing that the set ended so prematurely.
Critical bias: I was pleased that the set focused on Swing Lo Magellan, because it's one of my favorites of the year already.
Overheard: "He's playing the drums with one hand? And also a keyboard?! Game-changer." Andy Stack's skills never fail to amaze people unfamiliar with him.
Random notebook dump: "I wonder how many people here didn't know that DP have a male singer"
Swing Lo Magellan
About to Die
Gun Has No Trigger
See What She Seeing
Offspring Are Blank
Dance For You
Just From Chevron
Maybe That Was It
Stillness Is The Move