Dave Longstreth, the six-string-toting magician behind all the mythos surrounding Dirty Projectors, has gone on record saying that the goal behind 2009’s Bitte Orca was to illustrate what the band was as a live entity at that moment. If Longstreth was to be believed, the off-kilter rhythms of “Temecula Sunrise” and the virtuosic harmonies of “Cannibal Resource” were just on record interpretations of the musical prowess that the band trotted across the globe. As a firsthand witness of one of the shows on those tours, I can, in fact, report that they were no slouches. All of the reported twelve hour practice sessions manifested themselves wholeheartedly in the melodic stabs of Longstreth, Amber Coffman, and Angel Deradoorian, and the groovy rhythmic underpinnings of Nat Baldwin and Michael Johnson. These were triumphant performances showcasing the astounding talents of one of the most technically adept bands going in indie rock.
And then in the three years since we’ve been treated to a collaboration with Björk, a solo album from Baldwin, the hiatus of Deradoorian, and, most recently, the release of their most fully realized album to date, Swing Lo Magellan. If Bitte Orca was their treatise on live performance, Swing Lo was Longstreth proving his adeptness at simply writing songs. It condensed the immense technical ability of the band into what was, essentially, pop.
Knowing that bit of background, the philosophical origins of each of these albums, one might want to assume that the band has similarly stripped back their live show, presenting these songs in a more bare form, but such an assumption forgets Dirty Projectors long standing dedication to the art of live performance. Nothing is ever stripped back, no riff goes unheard, no bar of a tune presents itself underdressed. Each and every moment of a Dirty Projectors set is bursting with the immensity of the melodic weight of the tunes. It shows, really, that even when Longstreth is penning pop tunes, the compositions are wrenched and milked in their own brilliantly twisted way.
Even in the relatively straightforward lullaby of the title track from Swing Lo Magellan, which functioned as an opener to the night’s proceedings, took on a particularly pronounced sway in the live environment. Though it drew the most stripped back setup of the night — featuring only Coffman, Longstreth, Baldwin, and Johnson — it still presented the song in an infinitely more lively context than on record, setting the tone for night. Tracks both old and new were replicated painstakingly, and then surpassed by little turns. The final choruses of “Stillness is the Move”, emblazoned with Amber Coffman’s outstanding vocal runs, were marked by more pronounced (and downright funky) basslines from Baldwin. Longstreth and Coffman took their respective pop star frontman turns on “See What She Seeing” and “The Socialites” leading rousing renditions of both of those highlights from the recent LP.
The setlist drew almost entirely, as expected, from their last two full lengths, with the exception of an electrified, mind-melting run through “Beautiful Mother”, drawn from that aforementioned Bjork collaboration. Though the track seemed to go unrecognized by much of the noticeably stiff Orlando crowd, the amazing vocal coordination of Coffman, Olga Bell and Haley Dekle drew perhaps the biggest cheers of the night. The siren-like yowls caused everyone to pause and take notice, calling absolute attention to the immense talent onstage at that moment. It was a chilling moment, to say the least.
So it went. Throughout tracks old and new, Longstreth led the band through nimble exercises of musical tonguetwisters smoothed to perfection by countless hours of zenlike practice sessions. It’s prog-like musician porn condensed into three minute pop songs and wrenched into the singular art form that the band has perfected over the years, and save for some very minimal video projection, it was presented entirely unadorned. Dirty Projectors were, for a night, six musicians letting their momentous tunes do the talking. Let it be known, however small the crowd gathered was, they felt the message.