When the Dirty Projectors walked on stage last night at the Cedar, they launched straight into their first song, "Cannibal Resource." As David Longstreth gently strummed his electric guitar, the audience immediately recognized the chords and let out a cheer. It was a full house, the show having sold out well in advance, and for the duration of the set the room was electric from the energy of the Brooklyn sextet's musical acrobatics.
To say that the Dirty Projectors' music was virtuosic would be something of an understatement. Longstreth's songwriting has long been complex and often an acquired taste, but with last June's Bitte Orca his compositions grew in both maturity and accessibility. Last night, this translated to a breathtaking group dynamic as the band executed its meticulously arranged songs to perfection, the music's many layers coming together with effortless spontaneity.
After the opening song and a cover of Black Flag's "Rise Above," "Temecula Sunrise" helped set the tone as the band fully hit its stride. Featuring a spritely melody built around Longstreth's crackling guitar work, "Temecula" mixed an array of genres, with traces of Afropop, Caribbean, and Tropicalia all blended together seamlessly. Bobbing his head and prowling the stage with raptor-like movements, Longstreth's pinched harmonic shards cascaded over fragmented chords.
His shape-shifting warble of a voice was accompanied by Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman's mesmorizing harmonies, which sounded like autotune on a backward tape loop. Their vocals brought the music fully to life, adding a delicate layer to the music's abrasive core. Deradoorian would later take center stage with her aching "Two Doves," a love song of lyrical abstractions that was both forlorn and irresistibly beautiful.
Such gorgeous vocals belied tightly wound, often cut-and-thrust music. The snaps and jerks of the melodies periodically exploded into hardcore barrages, the tension brimming with guitar flurries that spilled over from the bridges onto the next verses.
Underlying the syncopation and jarring time signatures, though, were great, swinging pop hooks. On "Stillness is the Move," the band delivered the flat-out dance groove that almost every other song hinted at, its slinky rhythm the perfect platform for Coffman to unleash her own vocal fireworks. "Stillness" segued straight into the synth swells and shimmering vocals of "Useful Chamber," which of course gave way to more snarling guitar breaks. Together with "Remade Horizon," this three-song medley was the stunning highlight of a show that delivered at every one of its numerous twists and turns.
For the encore, Longstreth assumed the role of a soul singer on "Flourescent Half Dome," shedding his guitar and crooning sweetly as he swayed with the mic stand in his hands. Coming at the end of such an eclectic and assured set, the image of Longstreth with his collar popped and hair brushed to the side seemed a more than appropriate way to end the evening.