Dirty Projectors: Live at Bottom of the Hill

There is no other way to begin this review: the Dirty Projectors brought a boy to tears.

He looked about 16, perched on the amp right below the stage, head cradled in his arms, arms crossed on a lifted knee. At first I thought he was falling asleep. But after each song, he would raise both his hands and pump his fists in wild, nearly comical triumph. When they started up again, he’d set his head back down to sway and shake with the music. You could tell that something gripped him the right way, and he was trying to absorb every damn second of the experience. By the third song, that telltale streak of tears curved down from his eyes to the sides of his mouth; it stayed fresh on his cheek for the rest of the night.

And instead of feeling superior to such a public display of emotion (“this shit just moves me, man!”), something makes me proud of that kid – and I mean extremely proud – because I felt what he was showing: the kind of high so complete and natural, it made you wonder if another kind could ever exist. The Dirty Projectors’ live set is devastating enough to stop you in your tracks, to set you squarely in the present: right now, right here – this is the most powerful thing I’m going to feel for a while.

How do they do it? The success depends on a thorough reimagining of their recorded material. In a sense it’s necessary – Dave Longstreth, founder, frontman, and mastermind of the outfit shifts the group around so frequently that different aesthetics are necessary to fit the current lineup. This time around, they ditched the subtle but intricate electronic elements of studio cuts in favor of bellowing drums, an abundance of cacophonic vocals, and guitar riffs strung out with spidery tension. Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian – the latter a newcomer, the former a veteran of the 5-member Projectors who took the same stage a year prior – carried this 4-person setup with jittery duets and blinding chemistry; the hectic, counter-melodic interplay of their voices served as a fifth instrument, and oftentimes the most urgent and satisfying. It was the perfect recipe for a band that builds its music around a tense, shaky brand of beauty. From start to end, the live material is, in the best way possible, barely recognizable save for the lyrics. It’s at the heart of what makes the show so keenly fresh.

Simply, if the Dirty Projectors come to your town – see them. It’s a transcendent experience. If you don’t like the genre, or, hell, even if you don’t like their albums – there’s still a pretty good chance the show will make you melt. I know the pattern from the first time they came through: after a couple weeks, I’ll mostly shelve The Getty Address (“once you go live, you can never go back”) in favor for other albums. But I’ll still tell my friends that the Dirty Projectors were one of the best acts to ever crawl through this busy, teeming city.

-Phillip Taylor-Parker
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