Dirty Projectors – Roundhouse, London
Brooklyn outfit's Camden show is genius you can't clap along to
Words Alex Denney
As an avant garde outfit that’s forged a slow but steady path towards accessibility, the Dirty Projectors’ career to date represents something of a rarity in pop. After brainy concept albums about Don Henley and an utterly bizarre, some might say unlistenable, reconfiguration of Black Flag’s seminal Rise Above, the band unlocked some of its pop potential with 2009′s Bitte Orca, going further still with this year’s Swing Lo Magellan, a record which sounded suspiciously the work of a man in love.
It’s a shift reflected in the band’s sudden ability to fill venues the size of Camden’s Roundhouse venue, and Dave Longstreth’s outfit respond in kind with a warmly felt, virtuosic display that’s lapped up by the roughly 4,000-strong audience tonight. Of course, Longstreth being the type of guy who’d struggle to take a leak in a straight line, Swing Lo… is a strange breed of singer-songwriter’s record. But there’s an unadorned sincerity to the likes of the title track and ‘Impregnable Question’ that suggests he’s been taking notes the plain-spoken poetry of ’70s Dylan and Bob Marley, whose Wailers track ‘Soul Rebel’ plays out as the band takes to the stage.
Even in stranger moments, Longstreth’s vision rings loud and clear. His guitar playing is at once clumsy and virtuosic on ‘Just From Chevron’, and eloquently sad on ‘Maybe That Was It’, which sounds like Hendrix playing Robert Wyatt. His shrill, accomplished tenor takes on new lustre on songs as romantic as ‘See What She Seeing’, and he’s superbly backed in that respect by his female bandmembers, whose harmonies must rank as some of the finest and most unutterably strange in contemporary music (they draw gasps on ‘Beautiful Mother’, from 2010 Bjork collaboration Mount Wittenberg Orchestra). As lead singer, Amber Coffman is especially great, and it’s worth remembering she delivers her bird-like trills over a band whose shifting time signatures at times resemble that of a free jazz outfit.
Coffman gives a terrific performance on fan fave ‘Stillness Is The Move’ during the encore, but perhaps the sweetest moment of the evening comes when the crowd is encouraged to clap along with a typically lop-sided rhythm — we forget which track — that proves utterly beyond them. Weirdly, it doesn’t seem to matter: the fact they even tried tells you everything you need to know about tonight’s show.