It's perhaps the most overused phrase for a duo musical group these days, but boy, Wye Oak sure make quite the racket for only two people (and a few programmed beats). I called them "spectral electric folk-rocking" in my Underage column last week, and their songs were no less haunting live than they are on record. By my count they only played like six songs during their 45 minute opening set, and a few of those seemed to be longer, newer songs that aren't on any of their records, like this one called Spiral, which Jenn Wasner introduced as "a disco song we wrote last winter." It was weird to see that one end with both Wasner and drummer/bassist Andy Stack knob twiddling for a few minutes, and I'll be a little anxious to see if that's a one-off type song, or a sign of where their sound is going next. I'd rank Wasner high on my list of favorite guitar players, even though she doesn't wail on the instrument as much as Annie Clark or Marissa Paternoster (also, I just realized all my favorite guitar players are women) instead creating more colossal atmospherics. Highlights for me were the triumvirate of songs played from last year's Civilian, so, "Holy Holy," "Dog's Eyes," and the title track.
Read about Dirty Projectors after the jump:
Crowd getting excited
I spent one of the best summers of my life in and around Tucson, Arizona in 2009, doing archaeological fieldwork with a former professor of mine at UW. We'd drive south on I-19 from Tucson towards Mexico, and dotting either side of interstate were multiple suburban developments in various stages of desertion, as a result of the one-year old Great Recession/housing bubble burst. Following GPS coordinates for potential field sites, usually at around daybreak (it would get way too hot to do anything outside anytime after 11 am so we had to work early) we'd hike around half built tract homes, dried up golf course greenery, and signs warning us that "human smuggling and drug traffickers may be encountered in this area." When I wasn't listening to the then-new Dirty Projectors album, Bitte Orca, I constantly had the song "Temecula Sunrise" in my head, which describes a surrealist suburbia. Lyrics like "I welcome the new construction roads/I see that my silhouette is golden, yeah/I know the horizon is bright and motionless" floated around my psyche as I wandered through what was probably the most ubiquitous environment in my previous 20 years on this planet, boring suburban developments, that had become noticeably transformed into something more ominous, and made me stop to think more about it.
That long aside was my way of saying that Dirty Projectors take recognizable signifiers and distort them in weird and interesting ways. You just have to look at their song titles to get an idea of things; offspring are blank, guns have no trigger, the stillness is the move. Songs are these little self-contained worlds of bizarre world-play, prickly guitar work, careening female vocals, and beats that you feel like you could easily dance to if only you knew what the hell was going on.
DPz opened the night with five songs from the new album, Swing Lo Magellan (they would, in total, play all but one song from it). Swing Lo Magellan is somewhat mellower in contrast to Bitte Orca, and the crowd seemed to have trouble getting down with the newer material, although many audience members valiantly tried to keep up with songs that featured intricate hand clapping, like "Just From Chevron." The now-old-standbys, like "Cannibal Resource," "No Intention," and "Stillness is the Move" all brought out the head-nodding/booty shaking, and by the end of the night, while waiting to file out of the Showbox, I could overhear numerous attendees in various exclamations of "they're the fucking best band ever/that was the best show ever."
The performance also humanized the band for me, since I'd never seen them play before. Sometimes I get a weird cultish vibe from profiles on leader Dave Longstreth, particularly in how he leads grueling 12-hour long rehearsals that lead to quotes from band members like "[Longstreth] pushes and pushes, and sometimes you feel like you’re going to have a breakdown. But at the end of it you are realizing a new level of capability within yourself." Aside from dutifully checking in and staring at his band mates when he wasn't singing, Longstreth appeared jovial and at ease on stage, with a few technical difficulties leading to a more 'eh, whatever, let's just have fun on stage' attitude, like on "Stillness is the Move."
I also wrote down a set list if you're into that sort of thing. I was barely able to read it today and I probably won't bother doing that at a show anytime soon.
handwriting has never been my strong suit
Swing Lo Magellan Offspring Are Blank The Socialites About to Die Gun Has No Trigger Cannibal Resource Wittenberg IV Just From Chevron No Intention Maybe That Was It See What She Seeing Useful Chamber Unto Caesar
Dance For You Stillness is the Move Impregnable Question