Dirty Projectors – Barbican, London – 25 June 2010

Ten great gigs from 2010: #2

On the basis of last year’s breakthrough album, Dave Longstreth’s brainchild Dirty Projectors have become known for their left of centre approach to indie guitar music.

Bitte Orca draws on an array of genres without ever being at the service of them, largely because of the unpredictable and original musical forms Longstreth plays with. Standard rock elements are bent beyond recognition by the influence of R’n’B and African music. For all the wild creativity on show, though, the record managed not to sound cluttered – in fact, it was about as exciting as indie music got in 2009.

To the kind of rock traditionalist who found the rock-grounded strains of Bitte Orca testing, 2005’s richly experimental The Getty Address might just be beyond the pale. Still, the band’s raised profile made a concert of this scope possible: at the Barbican, they came together with the 20 piece contemporary music orchestra Alarm Will Sound to perform Longstreth’s so-called “glitch opera” in its entirety.

Introduced as a composition from his undergraduate days (Longstreth’s degree was in classical composition at Yale), the show’s focus was far removed from the breeziness of the Projectors’ more recent work.

Album covers: Bitte Orca and The Getty Address

The Getty Address was originally cut and pasted together, using recordings Longstreth made of friends playing orchestral instruments and singing. Rising to the challenge of realising it live, the awesome ensemble arrangement (penned especially by three Alarm Will Sound members) recreated the feel of the record precisely.

The sampled beats of the original were reimagined by percussionists, most impressively when normal Projectors drummer Brian McOmber thumped out jarring bass drum beats during opener ‘I Sit on the Ridge at Dusk’. The recorded choral parts of the original sounded even purer coming from the mouths of the regular vocal trio of Angel Deradoorian, Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle.

The precision of the performance left no doubt that the central six Projectors were as technically gifted performers as the orchestra backing them, but the way the songs often ran into each other meant that the intense and complex performance rarely left room for deserved applause.

After a cooling-off period, the sextet returned to the stage sans Alarm Will Sound for a set akin to the one they would play at Glastonbury two days later. Opening with a simple rendition of ‘Two Doves’, they focused on recent material. The newly released ‘When the World Comes to an End’ stood out, distilling Bitte Orca’s central style into a flash of virtuosity, ping pong female vocals and all.

The two halves of the Barbican concert were totally distinct, but taken together show off the fact that Dave Longstreth is one of the most inventive gents on the not-quite-mainstream indie scene. Whether he’s creating a new genre, reinventing the indie guitar band, or constructing a neo-funk album using only the sounds of flatulence (unlikely to happen anytime soon, but it’s original enough), his next steps are bound to reward attention.

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