For me, writing a live review has always been as much about the band performing as the people seeing them. Crowds vary a lot, from oddly still and reverent (Menomena, Explosions in the Sky) to “I’m overcompensating for something by moving around so goddamn much!” (I’m looking straight at you, Girl Talk crowd). Sometimes the crowd looks like they have never heard the band that’s performing, and simply ended up in the crowd of the show by freak accident (Los Campesinos!). Every crowd is truly unique.
To talk about the crowd at Dirty Projectors would be unfair: there was a bit of a divide. In the Aladdin Theater’s infinite wisdom, they made the set all ages, but cattled everyone who was not over 21 to the balcony of the venue, which is usually reserved, at least in normal concert halls, for the hipsters drinking their beer. So, we have a sea of people grooving to the music below, and a whole bunch of surly 19 year olds up top, wishing they could be downstairs truly enjoying the performance. Thus, in an attempt to not seem like I am ranting so much, I will try and stray away from talking about the people watching the show, and focus on the performance.
Dirty Projectors, for what its worth, are the best avant-pop stylists this side of Animal Collective, and have never failed to make music that the common man can agree is definitely challenging (see: weird). In releasing Bitte Orca, the band’s astounding Pop explosion, they may have released the most coherent work in their catalogue, and easily the best. However, to say that the band would be the most prolific band of the noughties if they could capture their live intensity for record would be an understatement. Having listened to Bitte Orca more times than I can count, I can comfortably say that, as much as I enjoyed the album at home, it pales in comparison to the live article, a statement I can rarely make.
The two Orca tracks that truly demonstrate the live fury of Dave Longstreth’s crew are Mariah Carey-jocking lead single “Stillness Is The Move” and makeshift title track “Useful Chamber.” On the latter, Amber Coffman’s vocal work that shone so brightly on the physical article are magnified by 100x due to her charisma and body energy, as she bobs around the stage like the sexy older sister of Shara Worden a la Hazards of Love. Hearing “Stillness” live may have ruined the (for lack of a better word) purity of the album version, due to the fire that Coffman brings into the live performance. Meanwhile the overall tightness of the track shows through as drummer Brian Mcomber proves himself as the world’s most proficient hip-hop drummer, and Longstreth tears our the main groove, bobbing around the stage happily.
However, on “Useful Chamber” the band as a whole truly explodes. Stripping away the seasick synth sounds of the album, “Chamber” turns into a writhing beast of a song, stretching it out nearly two minutes longer than God intended, with Longstreth proving that he’s truly one of the best guitarists of the decade, while the power trio of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and forgotten Dirty Projector Hayle Dekle howl like banchees over the cacophony. “I’m caught up in a storm/That I don’t need no shelter from!” sings Longstreth over the tumult that he’s created, a line most fitting amidst the storm wailing around him.
The rest of the songs played live may not stand out quite as much as these two, but they are nonetheless mind-blowing. The simplicity of Deradoorian’s solo shot “Two Doves,” accompanied with a small string section in record, is stripped down to Longstreth accompanying on acoustic guitar, and though both Amber and Angel have been in the main spotlight since “Stillness is the Move” debuted, Angel still seems nothing less than nervous to get her shot in the spotlight, despite the extensive touring the band has done behind the record.
Elsewhere, the joyful noise of “Temecula Sunrise” explodes into brightness, and the resplendent tone of opener “Cannibal Resource” opens up yet further, completely obliterating the possibility of listening to the album itself the same way again. Once the encore starts, and the organ sounds of closer “Fluorescent Half Dome” (cunningly saved for last) flare into life, I realize that, maybe that’s the point of the live article. Perhaps not to utterly destroy it, as the set may have done for me, but to complement it, and bring both sides of each story to life. In reality, something tells me that even if I had been in the crowd for the performance, rather than sitting on the sidelines, I doubt my review would be much different, because here, nobody but Dave Longstreth and his immaculate players matter.