The Dirty Projectors strut their stuff

November 20, 2009

The ease with which the Dirty Projectors perform feats of pure musical acrobatics belies the fact that they might just be the hardest working indie band around today.

Between front man Dave Longstreth’s demands for marathon rehearsals and an exhausting touring schedule, the group has managed to work its way to the top of critical and popular musical consciousness.

That’s not to say that talent isn’t the main driving force for the group. When they graced the stage on Tuesday night at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, it became instantly clear that every member of the Projectors maintained uncannily deft musical chops.

Bassist Nat Baldwin’s slithering bass lines provided rhythmic as well as melodic counterpoints to the triple intertwining vocal onslaught of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Deckle, to say nothing of Longstreth’s poised guitar virtuosity.

The band’s blend and balance revealed a striking cohesion despite fractured arrangements that undermined traditional song structures.

This is not Longstreth’s pet project as some critics have painted it. Each member is vital and brings a unique texture to the overall aesthetic.

Not surprisingly, the group kicked off their set with a track from their much-celebrated new album, Bitte Orca, entitled “No Intention.” It begins with a boomeranging guitar riff that sounded like a classical musician stumbling through a traditional Asian dance motif, and the chorus, including the angelic female choir, soared gracefully.

Initially the sound of Longstreth’s guitar, or perhaps his amp, bothered me. There was a certain fuzziness in the sound inconsistent with the crisp, clean production of the band’s latest album. This was a minor flaw, however, in a set that was otherwise remarkably solid.

What was truly remarkable about the show was the visual proof that the band can actually do all the things they put down in the recording.

It was exhilarating to watch the Projectors’ wide variety of aural tricks reproduced, from the ricocheting vocal antics of Coffman and Deckle to the notoriously weird time signatures that pepper all the band’s recordings.

This display proved as exhausting for me as an audience member as I imagine it did for the musicians themselves. After a while I found it was better to stop trying to follow what sounds came from where and simply appreciate those moments of sheer bliss that popped up within the songs. For example, the chorus of “Remade Horizon,” another standout from the new album, featured a shrieked refrain passed between Longstreth and his women colleagues that made my skin quiver.

Likewise, “Temecula” included a 7/8 time breakdown before unfolding into a blossoming harmonized chorus.

There were a couple of disappointing instants, although they seemed like intentional choices. First, several songs were converted into acoustic instrumentation, which worked beautifully for some delicate numbers but didn’t capture the full emotive force of tunes like “Gimme Gimme Gimme.” And a reworked vocal hook in “Useful Chamber” dampened the cathartic release from the album.

No one leaving the concert that evening, however, seemed disappointed, including Baldwin’s 78-year-old grandmother.

The Projectors’ presented their best material with considerable vivacity and superhuman precision. Just another day in the life of the hardest working indie band in the country.

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