Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA
November 17, 2009
The sold out Paradise Rock Club filled up early in preparation for Tuesday night’s Concert. The youngish crowd, a veritable hipster-bingo board of plaid, alt-girl headbands, and greasy faux-hawks, could probably have contributed enough optical strength with their combined square-rimmed glasses to focus the death star. Similarly hip, the Brooklyn-based Dirty Projectors took the stage to crowd calls of “let’s get dirty!” and vigorously belted out their unique, soaring rock music.
Presenting an unusual mix of hi-fi and lo-fi production sounds on their studio work, I had no idea what to expect from this eclectic, experimental six-piece. With frequent — and beautiful — four-part vocal harmony set over ragged, spastic guitar bites, the Dirty Projectors have made a name for themselves recently as a band unafraid to try out new techniques or repossess older ideas and make them their own. This adventurous attitude can be seen in the breadth of their catalogue that spans the early release The Getty Address, an orchestral concept album about aging musician Don Henley, to the newer Rise Above, an album supposedly composed of Black Flag covers made entirely from the memory of Dirty Projectors frontman Dave Longstreth. (To wit: Longstreth holds his guitar backwards, plucking and picking with his left hand instead of his right. While one wouldn’t assume this to be immediately noticeable, it was surprisingly disconcerting.)
Playing songs almost entirely off their two most recent albums Rise Above and Bitte Orca, the Dirty Projectors played a set that closely resembled their studio sound. This is not an easy feat — after watching them live and comprehending that much of the scat-singing and electric-sounding background music on their albums is actually the three back-up singers creating well-pitched noises in perfect time with each other. This complex and impressive vocal-work was most apparent in their song “Remade Horizon.” Somehow, between the gunky, hollow-sounding guitar riffs and layered, scattered vocal accompaniment, the band more closely resembled an electrified and reverberated music box: each note plucked mechanically and separately on the little copper petals, but inexorably linked in time to the notes before it and after by the rotating wheel.
Throughout the first five songs, the band hemorrhaged members at an alarming rate, ceasing when only two band members remained. Changing gears slightly, Longstreth exchanged his electric guitar for an acoustic, and played “Two Doves” as a simple duet with Angel Deradoorian, one of the band’s several talented back-up singers. The band reunited for the next several songs, including one with an upright bass (“Spray Paint”) and another (“Thirsty and Miserable”) that ended in an almost Sonic Youth-esque guitar meltdown.
At most rock shows, one feels the music through the lower registers; the overly-amplified bass line has enough power to shake your body. This was not the case on Tuesday. The raw guitar, soaring vocal arrangements, and Longstreth’s own strong voice forced almost all of the band’s power into the upper registers, creating the odd consequence of actually feeling the tenor noise. That I experienced something musically new at a Dirty Projector’s concert should not be a surprise. Fearless, wide-ranging, and talented, if you want to know what’s next in rock music, listen to the Dirty Projector’s last album — if you want a vision of what rock music should be, listen to their most recent.