wears the trousers magazine


the dirty projectors: live at the scala 13/09/09
September 20, 2009, 3:51 pm
Filed under: live, review | Tags: , , , ,

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The Dirty Projectors / tUnE-yArDs
The Scala, London ••••
September 13, 2009

It has been a scant five months since The Dirty Projectors last visited London’s Scala. Over the season we whimsically refer to as summer they haven’t exactly conquered the music world, but they certainly have been busy. They have achieved critical acclaim; their vociferous fanbase has grown ever larger; they’ve composed a suite of songs for Icelandic diva Björk and performed them to a rapt New York audience; and experienced a car crash that was at first reported as having casualties. Throw in a busy festival schedule and it’s probably understandable that when they take the stage they look remarkably tired. Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman, in particular, look almost skeletal under the Scala’s notorious terrible lighting.

The April gig could have been aptly described by the first line of ‘Cannibal Resource’ – “Look around at everyone / Everyone looks alive and waiting”. There was a definite buzz going around about the Projectors at the time, based on some incredible live shows and the leak of latest album Bitte Orca, and the crowd was expectant, waiting to hear if the buzz was true. This time around the atmosphere was slightly flatter. It may have something to do with the support set from Tune-Yards (or tUnE-yArDs, if you insist). Merrill Garbus’s patiently constructed songs were welcomed by the crowd, and, indeed, some of them were beautifully realised. At her best, Garbus is engaging and intriguing; at other times, the music was just a bit wilfully ‘weird’.

When the Projectors came out on stage, it was in the form of Longsteth and bassist/vocalist Angel Deradoorian. Together they performed a somber ‘Two Doves’ before being joined by the rest of the band. Likely aware of the quiet atmosphere, Dave tried to work the band up as they launched into an almost perfect rendition of ‘No Intention’ followed by ‘Remade Horizon’. While the latter is something of a dud on Bitte Orca, it always sparkles live, simply because the sugary acid sound that Dave produces with his guitar is much more immediate and spine-tingling witnessed firsthand. In fact, the Projectors have always sounded better live than on record. Their co-ordination is breathtaking. The vocal acrobatics that Amber, Angel and Haley Dekle manage always draws howls of admiration from the crowd.

Things do sometimes go wrong, however, and Bitte Orca centrepiece ‘Useful Chamber’ starts out a shambles, before the band pull it together. This was also the point at which the Scala lighting team managed to go beyond previous disgraces, misreading the direction of the song entirely and blacking out the stage just as Dave launched into probably the song’s most difficult piece of frenzied guitar playing in the song. When the lights returned he rolled his eyes and appeared to be cursing under his breath. Still, it seemed by sheer force of will that the Projectors were going to have a good time, in spite of it all. They danced, and retained their typical affection with each other on stage, which at times makes you feel that you are at an event as intimate as watching friends practice together in a garage.

This was true especially when they thinned their numbers to play tracks from Rise Above, an album that intended to recreate Black Flag’s Damaged without re-listening to the original. Perhaps strangely, this drew the greatest response from the crowd. When their numbers swelled again for lead single ‘Stillness Is The Move’, it appeared that both crowd and band had finally warmed to the occasion. Though she seems quiet and retiring, Amber took centre stage eagerly, almost elbowing Dave out of the way in the process. From there it was a sprint home through the remaining Bitte Orca tracks (and one that appeared to be new), ending the encore as on the album with ‘Fluorescent Half-Dome’.

So, while not as buzzing with anticipation as April’s amazing outing, this was a welcome return from the Projectors. They are ever workmanlike, in the best senses of the phrase, and somehow, in spite of their apparent exhaustion, made it work. Judging by the merch table at the end, they also picked up a large group of new converts. In this, though, they may have been thwarted by a stunning example of inane bureaucracy. You could queue to by either the Dirty Projectors’ merch or tUnE yArDs’; if you tried to buy both at once you were told you had to join another queue. We suspect the hidden hand of the Scala’s lighting monkeys. Truly, they are diabolical.

Scott Sinclair

Photo used under Creative Commons licence, courtesy of Namestage on Flickr. View the full set here.


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