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Live review: Dirty Projectors at Disney Hall

February 28, 2010 | 12:37 pm
Getprev-26 Leading his band Dirty Projectors on Saturday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, David Longstreth kept folding his long, gangly frame toward the floor, as though he were trying to avoid being noticed.

The Brooklyn group released one of last year’s most celebrated indie-rock discs, "Bitte Orca," and Longstreth, one presumes, has long since grown used to playing in front of the type of crowd that views a concert as an excellent opportunity to tweet. But the seated Disney audience entertained no such distractions, listening with laser-like focus as Longstreth and his bandmates, along with the New York chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound, performed Dirty Projectors’ 2005 album "The Getty Address."

Halfway through the hour-long piece, the singer-guitarist seemed to seek refuge from the spotlight by pulling a hood over his head.

As uncomfortable as he may be with such concentrated attention, Longstreth writes music that demands it: Described by the composer as an opera that "examines the question of what is wilderness in a world completely circumscribed by highways," "The Getty Address" jams together darting string arrangements, thudding percussive grooves, elaborate vocal harmonies and quasi-Asian guitar riffs; the libretto follows a fictional character named Don Henley (based on the Eagles member) on a complicated journey across the American psycho-ecological landscape.

Last year "Stillness Is the Move," an irresistible avant-funk cut from "Bitte Orca," became something of an indie-scene hit for Dirty Projectors; it even earned a widely circulated cover by Beyoncé's sister, Solange Knowles. But "The Getty Address" offers a bold reminder of Longstreth’s background in (and continuing commitment to) experimental art music in all of its challenging structural complexity.

At Disney Hall, the thrill of Dirty Projectors' performance came from watching how closely the musicians followed the contours of Longstreth's compositional idiosyncrasies. Utilizing traditional instruments as well as beer bottles and a roll of duct tape, the members of Alarm Will Sound replicated the album's quick digital edits, while Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle and Angel Deradoorian complemented Longstreth’s yelping lead vocals with precise pointillist bursts and ghostly, elongated oohs.

Near the end, in a climactic passage titled "Finches’ Song at Oceanic Parking Lot," the three women's voices locked into a kind of collective consciousness, hanging together like a flock of birds through a series of jarring melodic leaps.

Before "The Getty Address," the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed a brief program of pieces Longstreth had selected by Ligeti, Wagner and Ravel. After the main event, Dirty Projectors returned to the stage and played pared-down versions of Bob Dylan’s "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" and tunes from "Bitte Orca," including "Temecula Sunrise," in which Coffman, Dekle and Deradoorian repeated their flock-of-birds trick over Longstreth's African-inspired guitar filigree.

Perhaps surprisingly, the group declined to play "Stillness Is the Move," a conspicuous elision that felt like another dodge from one of indie rock’s squirreliest savants.

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: David Longstreth performs at Disney Hall. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times