Dirty Projectors at First Avenue, 9/19/10

Photos by Steve Cohen
Dirty Projectors
September 19, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis

There are few bands that so relentlessly defy a clear description of their music as Dirty Projectors do. Is it experimental? Freak folk? Prog rock? Straight ahead indie rock? Art punk? The answer to all of these questions is both "Yes." and "No." This is both the charm and the curse of Dirty Projectors: they're difficult to describe in clear cut terms, while at the same time they possess a sound that is both easily accessible and extraordinarily unique.

How that sounds translates to a live show is a bit more tricky, however. While many of their songs have a more traditional construction, some are sparse and quiet, with multiple time changes and well-timed "ooh"s and "ahh"s from Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Hayley Dekle. On paper it may seem a bit silly, but this often occurred with all three of them in unison, and the structure of the vocals wasn't exactly for back-up on a Top 40 pop song--it was quite impressive.

Dirty Projectors at First Avenue, 9/19/10

Photos by Steve Cohen

It would have served them better to mix these songs up a bit more, but as it stood they shoved many of the more intricate, downtempo songs like "Two Doves" and "Temecula Sunrise" together in the middle of the set, creating more of a lull in the show than anything else. Part of enjoying any live show is the ride you take--the highs and the lows. If all the lows happen at only one point it tends to make the show seem like it's dragging or losing focus.

Lead singer Dave Longstreth and company were largely silent from the stage between songs, and while it isn't a requirement for a band to entertain the crowd between songs, it seemed they maybe were just pushing to get the show over with.

They wrapped up the main set with fairly stunning renditions of "Stillness is the Move" and "Useful Chamber," the latter being by far the best song of the set. The three-song encore felt a bit tacked on, but "Cannibal Resource" was spot-on and as they floated through the last two songs some things became clear: Dirty Projectors are brimming with talent; and they are one of the few bands who can throw everything and the proverbial kitchen sink into their music and make it all work, without some of it fading into the background or having one big "hit" surrounded by meandering self-indulgence. They're an infinitely interesting band with a brave, jaw-droppingly creative catalog, but with the set list arranged as it was they created a disconnect that should not have been present at all. With a body of work as diverse as theirs, the show didn't reflect that diversity as well as it could have.

Critics' bias: I'm a sucker for any sort of music that others may describe as "weird."
The crowd: Subdued, even for a Sunday show.
Overheard in the crowd: (About a table marked "Reserved"): "Whatever, nobody's been [sitting] here all night. I'm sitting down, they can throw me out if they want to."
Random notebook dump: Slow songs all crammed together--why?
For more photos: See our complete slideshow by Steve Cohen.

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