Despite the constantly-rotating lineup that is Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors, the group's incredible musicianship is undeniable. After seeing dozens of new bands timidly emerging from behind YouTube webcams with no stage presence, equipped with drummers who rush into the sunset on the first downstroke, and rhythm sections that play with little regard for volume or control, it's a welcome break to see a group demonstrate with ease the acquired technical prowess gained from tireless rehearsal. Simply put, the Dirty Projectors might be one of the most solid live indie acts out there.
On July 10, concertgoers filled Brooklyn's Prospect Park Bandshell and covered the surrounding slopes with blankets, eager for a chance to see and hear one of most anticipated performances of this summer's Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series. Presented by Google Play and a litany of other sponsors, Celebrate Brooklyn! is one of New York City's longest-running arts festivals, bringing together music, film, dance and theater with the goal of uniting people in Prospect Park.
The loosely-confined quarters of the bandshell gave the mid-twenties-skewed crowd plenty of space to enjoy the day's warm, breezy weather. With extra time slated between the openers -- Purity Ring and Wye Oak -- and the Projectors, the audience was encouraged to take a break and enjoy the food and drink tents that lined the venue's borders. The Dirty Projectors trivia that was broadcast onstage during setup -- What handed guitar is David? What was Dirty Projectors' first album? -- was a nice touch.
The lights were dimmed to reveal the familiar Dirty Projectors iconography reminiscent from the cover of the band's 2009 release "Bitte Orca." The band took the stage in darkness and launched into the title single of their latest album, "Swing Lo Magellan," without any introduction. The group's new debut, released the same day as the show, was met with mixed reviews from critics who cited the album's inability to live up to the band's esteemed 2009 release, "Bitte Orca."
"Our album came out today!" frontman David Longstreth proudly declared before the crowd. Although most of the audience had likely not heard the new record yet, it didn't take much familiarity to be amazed by what was on stage. Launching into "Gun Has No Trigger," the first single off "Magellan," Amber Coffman and the rest of the band's female lineup (Haley Dekle and Olga Bell) blew the crowd away when they ditched their instruments and filled the sonic void of the song -- normally reserved for guitars and keyboards -- with intense vocal harmonies, a move they pulled again for "Beautiful Mother" (from 2011's "Mount Wittenberg Orca" release with Björk).
Even on the hits, the Projectors made efforts to mix things up and keep the set fresh, nudging and tweaking slight details to produce something truly unique for the fans. The band strayed from the beat, warping time ever so slightly to the point where the electric guitar lines dropping during the refrain seemed almost unexpected. A heavier delay was used on the guitars during "Cannibal Resource," altering the style and adding new depth to the track.
The band cycled through the setlist with few words in between, tirelessly performing nearly every song from the new album with deft precision. During "Maybe That Was It," Longstreth matched the droning, bending notes of the song's melody with own voice, singing perfectly in unison with the music. On "The Socialites," the polyrhythmic exchange between drums, cymbals and guitar underneath Coffman's soaring vocal melodies was particularly strong when performed live -- the subdivision between instruments caused the beat to become even less identifiable, leaving the audience to wonder how she managed to stay in time.
Concertgoers got what they came for during the encore performance of "Bitte Orca's" stand-out track "Stillness Is the Move." Coffman gleefully danced around on stage as she had for much of the show, holding the mic out to the crowd, encouraging them to sing the chorus. The Dirty Projectors showcased a raw talent that few possess and though the crowd may have felt unsure at first, the band led the audience through a new body of work that will likely come to be respected on its own merits.
Full Dirty Projectors setlist, July 10, 2012:
"Swing Lo Magellan"
"About to Die"
"Gun Has No Trigger"
"See What She Seeing"
"Offspring Are Blank"
"Dance for You"
"Just From Chevron"
"Maybe That Was It"
"Stillness is the Move"