Watching a gospel choir through broken glass.
There is a risk, when you see two bands as technically elaborate as Dirty Projectors and Tune-Yards, that you will get several hours of knob twirling and strings pulled with great concentration and zero seconds of eye contact or excitement. What we got instead was a pair of great performances and a night that ended too soon.
Merrill Garbus, aka Tune-Yards, makes enough music for a four-piece herself with loops (except for the occasional assist from a traveling bassist). She layers seemingly random thwacks on a snare and floor tom and whatever else is within drumstick reach on chords grated from a ukulele she's made as guitar-like as possible by taping over the resonance chamber and filtering it through a fuzz pedal.
Oh and her voice. She adds that too. Her voice is a more versatile tool than all the crap at her hands and feet, and she has the little-kid confidence to unleash it without reservation. She does tribal chants and other-worldly yelps and harsh shouts and solid gold belting. She even yodeled a couple times, and we haven't even got to the most surprising thing in the ol' bag of tricks. That would be beat boxing. She delivers all of this with wide-eyed abandon, laughing between songs from the pure joy of making music.
The songs are strange and eclectic and piecemeal, which sort of comes with the territory of a one-woman loop construction band. It is also really catchy, enough get a crowd full of Denver's hippest hipsters absolutely bouncing. Rarely do you see a true original, but Dirty Projectors are that. A list of the band's reference points would be diverse to the point that it wouldn't be helpful, and besides: the way they use old tricks is so novel you'd barely recognize them. In one song, they take a bombastic classic rock conclusion, playing one power chord over and over, except they keep playing it so long that it sort of flattens out and they layer it with razor sharp and delicate melody, and the effect is something assuredly new.
This year's Bitte Orca seems like the album on which frontman Dave Longstreth found what he had been tinkering toward for the better part of the decade. It's still pointy and weird and contains ankle-breaking time changes, but it also freaking grooves. Lead single "Stillness Is the Move" is a monster of a track, a guitar line that'll stick in your head and Dirty Projectors' three inhumanly good female vocalists (lead, for this song, by Amber Coffman) crooning pop magic.
Longstreth leads this band in that he writes the songs and gives the cues, but he's charitable with the spotlight. He holds his guitar high and flails around on the freakouts and turns backwards to noodle away on the complicated mathy stuff. He sings in unexpected intervals, his voice sounding like each one and some combination of David Byrne, Thom Yorke and Elvis Costello.
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Coffman wore flannel-pattern shirt and high waisted pants and long, long hair. When she has a guitar, she bobs slightly and belts her parts. She dances more without the instrument, and absolutely swept the packed crowd off its feet with her diva turn in "Stillness Is the Move."
The other two ladies of the Projectors are Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle. Deradoorian is a solo musician herself - her debut album came out this summer on Lovepump United. In this band she runs the keys, a guitar, sometimes a bass and a laptop full of samples. That in addition to singing, which she does ridiculously well. She is a more subdued performer, but there is a dignity and confidence to her demeanor that makes her a compelling presence.
Brian Mcomber is a whale of a drummer. He leads the band through mind-bending rhythms with precision, but it comes easily enough to him that he can truly thrash away back there, throwing himself at his crash cymbal and swinging with his entire arm and sweating through his T-shirt.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Dirty Projectors are a band that makes me proud to be a music fan in the Aughts. Random Detail: I overheard someone speculating half-jokingly that the band was from Saskatchewan. Brooklyn, actually, but hey - that's right on the trend. By The Way: Tune-Yards apparently played the Lion's Lair once. You never know what you might find when you wander into a show.