What happens when a band whose catalog is loaded with ever changing rhythms, wicked fast guitar pickings, and three layers of high notes performs live and in concert? I walked into the Music Hall of Williamsburg wondering what sort of brain-churning mishmash we attendees might be getting ourselves into on our date with the Dirty Projectors. Opening band No Kids set an awkward tone for the night with their chunky, confused piano parts and unenthusiastic appearances, though those of their songs infused with a Latin flavor were somewhat danceable. A few requisite drunk girls swayed casually as they played out their short set, but in the end most of the crowd’s energy was saved for the main event. At last, a chance to see what happens when a band led by David Longstreth — whose assorted tastes and tendencies have led him to invoke both Don Henley and Black Flag – takes the stage. Indeed, last year’s Rise Above is a sort of retelling of Black Flag’s 1981 album Damaged – though the songs are completely restructured and entirely non-similar in sound, the lyrics are heavily borrowed. A funny pairing to be sure, but not one that took away from Rise Above’s awesomeness or, as we would soon learn, the band’s live performance.
Yet for all their eclecticism, Dirty Projectors aren’t all that spazzy on stage. Their seeming humility is interesting given their range of influences and the all-over-the-placeness of their albums. Longstreth stood front and center to deliver his enviably crisp and wide-ranging voice, and though he did command attention in comparison to his bandmates, he maintained a calmness throughout the set interrupted just a bit by particularly rockin’ breakouts. Bassist Angel Deradoorian and second guitarist Amber Coffman did not appear to be very animated folk, but this shared behavior did not draw away from their respectable vocal performances, as both ooo’d perfectly in sync to create the Dirty Projector’s signature three-part harmonies. The charm of this arrangement added an innocence to the band’s sound, which was wonderful to hear live along with the jumping accompaniment of the actual instruments, which proved to themselves be played quite expertly. Though through most of the set the people on stage weren’t particularly outgoing or performance-oriented, the songs themselves were excellently played, leaving the eagerly anticipated moments of sonic outburst to rattle with their own insane energy. Highlights included the apparent crowd favorite “Depression” and “Rise Above,” which was just plain lovely, a description I don’t think I’d ever use to describe a Black Flag song, no offense to that fine band. And so, my initial questions were answered satisfactorily: this band is good live.