From the very first moment they were mentioned in the blogosphere, there has always been plenty of talk about the complexity, technicality, and thematically-singular vision of the music of Dirty Projectors. Critics and journalists (myself included) have written thousands of words breaking down bandleader Dave Longstreth’s meticulously crafted, nearly-unclassifiable songs, but comparatively little has been said about Dirty Projectors’ live show. That should change soon though, as the Dirty Projectors are a stronger live act than ever, presenting Longstreth’s songs in a more visceral setting while allowing the band to flex their impressive musical muscle.
The beauty of Longstreth’s songs are often only realized after quite a few spins, which means that there probably aren’t many casual Dirty Projectors fans. Sure enough, the band’s show at the Showbox at the Market on Monday night was undoubtedly filled with longtime devotees of Dave Longstreth and company who probably got on board with 2005’s The Getty Address and followed the band closely ever since. (For some context, even though the doors didn’t open until 7, the first people in line for the gig showed up around 5, and by the time 7 o’clock rolled around, the line had nearly wrapped around the block.) By 7:45, most of the night’s audience was already inside and camped out in their spot on the floor, and 15 minutes later, Wye Oak began their opening set.
Like Dirty Projectors, Wye Oak‘s music is impeccably replicated onstage, but unlike Dirty Projectors, Wye Oak only has two members to create their thick layer of sounds. However, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack and singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner made musical multi-tasking look easy, efficiently handling two or more musical roles at any given time. The pair ran through a number of tracks off last year’s Civilian as well as a handful of new tunes, all of which were received well by the crowd, who, although full of anticipation for the headliner, were swaying intently to Wasner’s wall of feedback and Stack’s pounding rhythm. In fact, the Wye Oak probably could have taken another 15 minutes of stage time and no one would have complained, but as their set drew to a close and the onstage gear was switched out, the restless crowd was clearly ready for the main attraction. After a half-hour intermission, the house lights dimmed, and the now-familiar dual-splatter Dirty Projectors logo came across the band’s three-screen backdrop.
The Dirty Projectors catalogue takes on new life in the context of a live setting, primarily because Longstreth only plays with top-shelf players who have exhaustively rehearsed the material, but also because his complex arrangements (which are already quite mind-boggling on record) are nothing short of jaw-dropping in person. Every member also has a more vivid presence live, and the current live setup suggests that the live incarnation of Dirty Projectors is more of a collaborative effort than the Longstreth-dominated studio incarnation. Perhaps reflective of the more proactive role singer/guitarist Amber Coffman has taken in their live performances, Longstreth now shares the center of the stage with her, and the rest of the members surround the duo. Behind them are the deadly rhythm section of bassist Nat Baldwin and Michael Johnson, and on either side, they’re – Haley Dekle on stage left, newcomer Olga Bell on stage right – flanked by a female singer/auxiliary musician.
Typically behind their guitars, but occasionally freed-up by the other in order to roam around the stage engaging the audience, Coffman and Longstreth traded off the lead role onstage, leading the band through most of the songs off Swing Lo Magellan, a handful from Bitte Orca, and one from Mount Wittenberg Orca. Although Swing Lo Magellan isn’t even a month old, it received just as much love from the audience as the older material. There were singalongs during the easier-to-replicate vocal parts of “Gun Has No Trigger”, “About to Die”, and “Unto Caesar”, in-time clapping for “Just From Chevron” and “The Socialites”, and dancing for “Stillness Is The Move” and, appropriately enough, “Dance For You”. Although the energetic, dance-happy audience was incredibly receptive to the whole show, the Projectors themselves may have been having more fun onstage. Playful and relatively talkative, Longstreth and Coffman wore grins for most of the night, moving around the stage with a skip in their step as the rest of the band moved along to the rhythm section’s slinky grooves.
“I think this is going to work”, said Longstreth early in the set. It’s not clear exactly what Longstreth was referencing, but his quote is a good reflection of Monday’s show, and perhaps the whole Swing Lo Magellan tour. Longstreth is just one player in a six-piece band in a live setting, but he’s supported by some of the best musicians around playing one of the year’s best albums, so yeah, it – whatever it is – is probably going to work.