Dirty Projectors: up close and personal at MONA FOMA

Dirty Projectors: up close and personal at MONA FOMA

If you were at the Dirty Projectors’ MOFO show this month you would have remembered what a beguiling, beautiful thing their performance was. As you’d guess, the bulk of the songs were from their album of last year, Swing Lo Magellan, which, if you weren’t familiar with it and hadn’t spent time teasing out its tender madness, there’s a chance the songs might have felt too densely packed, full-to-brimming with ideas and shifting moods. If you didn’t know which part of the song was coming up next you might’ve been thrown by the abrupt changes.

I was reminded all through the set of two other Brooklyn-based bands, Vampire Weekend and Grizzly Bear. Dirty Projectors seemed to combine these two different angles of indie-rock arrangement and, at least on this night, delivered something entirely their own. Out front stood the Projectors’ principle stylists, Dave Longstreth (tall, lean, left-handed) and Amber Coffman (petite, willowy, right-handed) and to watch them trade licks and match musical wits was pretty damn special. Almost every vocal style was used: Longstreth’s high-pitched emotional phrasing swung to a tenor croon, recalling the Bryan Ferry of the first Roxy albums, while Coffman would coo and yelp and blast through her lead vocal parts.

I had a chance to catch up with the two before the show and in person Lonstreth and Coffman are polite and amiable, even in the face of some coarse Australian humour. (Did I nearly get booted from the interview for arriving drunk and asking them to deface their own album artwork? I don’t know, you’ll have to ask their manager. . .)

They told me the band had arrived in Hobart the day before and were staying in Berriedale, where they’d just their minds blown by MONA. They spoke of their Carnegie Hall concert the week before, performing Swing Lo Magellan and Mount Wittenberg Orca (their mini-album from 2011, a collaboration with one Björk Guðmundsdóttir) as well as rare songs off early EPs. We chatted about what they’d been listening to recently (Dave was on a real country kick: George Jones, Hank Williams [“he can’t write a wrong phrase”]; Amber was tuning into some recent Hip-Hop and R&B: Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Jeremih [“you’ve got to check out his ‘Late Nights Mixtape’”]) and where they’d be heading for the remainder of the tour, taking in New Zealand, Japan and China.

But I digress. Now, back to the show.

The band as a whole ran through the unpredictable avant-pop arrangements with aplomb. When the songs threatened to spiral out of control, they would rein everything in, keep the chaos contained then swoop to fly off into another fantastic realm. Older, straighter songs like ‘Stillness is the Move’ went down a treat. The only thing missing, which the audience were craving, was a couple more songs for an encore. Never mind though. The songs and the band shone spectacularly that Friday night – a perfect addition to the summer’s MoFo line up.

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