Breathtaking, while a dramatic descriptor, still falls short in attempting to describe the set performed by Dirty Projectors Thursday at Emo’s. Though I’ve listened to and greatly enjoyed the music of Dirty Projectors for some time now, I’ll admit they’re a band I have not read about extensively. So, if I repeat the obvious or make claims long since forgone, I hope you’ll forgive me. Primarily, this one: Dirty Projectors are the new Talking Heads. Though that’s a passé phrasing of a sentiment, it’s the most honest way I can describe my feelings about them.
With Longstreth at the helm, the band adeptly navigates songs that incorporate intricate syncopation, tightly structured (and experimental) vocal harmonies, emphasis on rhythmic elements, and cryptic but excellent lyricism all in the context of a pop song. The Talking Heads were effective in similar ways and remain no less profound, but Dirty Projectors register as the pendulum swung back with a couple more decades of music from which to draw. Lead singer Longstreth is every bit as captivating as Byrne (with whom Dirty Projectors have worked), though perhaps less theatrical. Sidekick Amber Coffman lends excellent female vocals and musicianship. These two are flanked by a band that fully realizes Longstreth’s avant-garde vision and stays in perfect sync.
Playing almost every song from their newest effort, Swing Lo Magellan, Dirty Projectors also played several songs from Bitte Orca as well as the notable “Beautiful Mother” from the Bjork collaboration Mount Wittenberg Orca. The group’s live show made phenomenal use of light (provided by an Austin native whose name I didn’t quite catch), particularly on “Beautiful Mother.” As the vocal melodies waver, then sync, climax, and explode into orchestrated sound, the lighting mirrored this effect, almost as if the band themselves radiated light energy.
As a bonus for the evening, the crowd received the treat of Wye Oak as an opener. A group by which I’ve been captivated since the first time I saw them at the Parish several years ago, I’m always excited when they’re in town. As a duo, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack generate an incredible amount of sound. More impressive, is that it’s not just volume and noise. Rather, Wasner carefully employ effects and outstanding guitar skills while Stack handles duties on several instruments simultaneously. Their approach results in a cacophonous barrage of thundering indie rock. The band closed with crowd pleaser and single “Civilian.”
Both Wye Oak and Dirty Projectors performed stellar sets, offering proof of their status as vital components of current independent music. With such an outstanding collection of songs as Swing Lo Magellan, I’ve got my fingers crossed that Longstreth and co. will return to Austin in further support of the album before heading back into the studio.