If there’s one thing The Dirty Projectors and Owen Pallett have in common it is precision. Whether it is Pallett building up his crazy wall of sound loop constructions or the Projectors belting out some insane vocal harmony, both acts are going at their live show with a deliberate sense of what they are doing. So a pairing of the two together at Terminal 5 Saturday night felt like it, too, was well thought out and premeditated. The house was sold out, and the huge crowd seemed to be appreciative of the type of rad show we were seeing together. “It’s like the Cake Shop but with a couple balconies,” Dave Longstreth said early on his band’s set. It may have elicited a chuckle (you know, since it is nothing like The Cake Shop at all) but it was a nice gesture to make.
Pallett’s set began after he announced (and tweeted!) that he was having a set list crisis. The set was decidedly split into two acts. First came his solo looping and building detailed architectural songs using just violin and MIDI keyboard. This approach of creating a whole song out of relatively short loops and placing them on top of one another changes the entire way you look at Pallett’s baroque pop catalog. For the second half, Thomas Gill came to the stage, providing multi-instrumental layers on top of the looped violin textures. From bopping auxiliary drums on “The Great Elsewhere,” to shredding guitar on “Many Lives -> 49 MP.” (Shredding, in this case, does mean swaying and playing calmly.) As amazing and obviously talented Pallett is on his own, the addition of a second member to the stage show keeps him from being considered too gimmicky or one trick-y.
It’s probably been said before, but Dirty Projectors put the “rock” in “art rock.” From the beginning of the set with the harmonic shrieks of “Fucked For Life,” and blasting strobe lights into the eyes of everyone in the crowd, it is easy to get sucked into how much of a powerful rock force these guys are and forget how weird these songs actually are. Catchy and rocked out to be sure. But when it comes down to it, these alien harmonies sung by Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Haley Dekle, along with Longstreth’s finger-mashing guitar licks, these are not songs that many bands selling out big rock venues could dream of writing.
The three-song mind explosion came early in the set with “I Will Truck” followed by “Knotty Pine” and “No Embrace.” Seeing this kind of diversity and reflection come across in a setlist is refreshing. It would be easy (and probably wholly crowd-pleasing) to just play track after track from Bitte Orca. But playing songs from the weird conceptual Getty Address and non-LP releases is a great way to reward fans and to rock the hell out. And the band kept smiles on their faces. Dancing around the stage, playing serious jam after serious jam. The set list included tracks spanning the band’s career, (and also a cover of Bob Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning”) reworking them for their current lineup and putting them all on a level and cohesive field. This didn’t seem to be a band broken down by their success in recent years. They really seemed as stoked to be there as we were.
For as much as the band rocked overall, a couple of the more quiet, subdued moments in the set were some of the most compelling. Playing “Police Story” off Rise Above and singing “This fucking city is run by pigs,” the crowd cheered. That song summed up the nostalgia and power we all felt when these Black Flag songs were remade. We were crushed by the weight of emotion and nostalgia and punk rock ethos transformed into modern day life. When the lights dimmed and Dave and Angel played “Two Doves,” the rest of the band left the stage. In the dim theater, hearing “don’t confront me with my failures,” sung in such a beautifully pitch-perfect way it was sort of like a way to put those bummers out of mind. What was important was focusing on the present moment and living things right now. The same feeling went out in the band’s last song. Returning to the stage for their encore and ending the 90 minute set with “Rise Above,” everyone left the theater with righteously optimistic vibes. Everyone walked out into the streets where it felt like fall for one of the first times this season with smiles on our faces.
Here’s a video of “Two Doves.”