The Dirty Projectors, Terminal 5, September 11, 2010
A brief, informal Internet survey of opinion about midtown’s experimental plane hanger/music hall Terminal 5 reveals that it’s “the worst venue in New York,” where no one of taste or aesthetic conviction “would fucking ever set foot.” And yet, on this meaningfully dated Saturday night with at least a handful of high-profile shows to compete with, the place was sold out. Sold out for a fairly difficult art band, no less. As I don’t dare question the deep conviction of the city’s music blog commenters, the full room gave ample proof that The Dirty Projectors have blossomed into one of the city’s biggest draws, with an expanding fan base now big enough to make up for conscientious objectors.
Famous collaborators like Bjork and David Byrne didn’t magically pop up, but weren’t really missed, either. The Dirty Projectors commanded the big-stage and captivated the rippling crowd, all by themselves. They have an exotic sound that's identifiably their own, but it was striking as the set progressed to count how many prominent New York City acts have been chopped-up and fed into the mix. Covering Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding track “As I Went Out One Morning” they sounded a lot like the Talking Heads (see also: a bunch of other times). With main-Head Byrne missing from their joint jam “Knotty Pine,” the song took on kind of a world-travelling, mid-life crisis Paul Simon feel. Stripped down to just Dave Longstreth and Angel Deradoorian for “Two Doves,” the band evoked the crisp, winter coat Chelsea of Nico and Jackson Browne. New York is an adopted home, but it seems to be coursing through their veins. (It should be noted here that the oft-slandered Term 5 soundsystem handled all these shifting tones just fine, thanks.)
Longstreth’s ululating vocals also brought to mind an undead, art-damaged Jeff Buckley, who’d posthumously inserted all manner of twisted hiccups into his style to ward off any further American Idol butchering. He dominated the set’s offerings from the band’s Black Flag cover project, Rise Above, pretentiously elongating Henry Rollin’s every stunted grunt. Those older songs put into stark relief how much better the band’s newer material is for leaning on their trio of exemplary female vocalists. Deradoorian, Amber Coffman, and Haley Dekle saved Longsreth’s ass repeatedly Saturday night, flooding the mix with heavenly vocals that were impressive even when the music was at its thorniest; adding En Vogue professionalism to DNA skronk. Their virtuosity extended to performances that might not actually have been songs per se, swooping from alternating dolphin chirps to clear, uniform tones like the ones they used to play before movies to showcase THX Dolby soundsystems. It’s kind of rote now to note the excellence of Coffman’s star-turn “Stillness is the Move," but it bears consistent repeating. How bare that track is. Just a beat and a beer-commercial blues riff for her to flutter around. It got the night’s most adamant response, which was hopefully duly noted by Dave. While it’s admirable to have reached their current popularity plateau on the back of his noodly, cathartically complicated material, skeletal grooves and sweet melody will prolong their stay.
Fucked For Life
I Will Truck
As I Went Out One Morning (Bob Dylan cover)
Stillness is the Move
Fluorescent Half Dome