Show Review: The Dirty Projectors, Dominique Young Unique at The Fillmore, 9/25/10

by Dakin Hardwick on September 26, 2010

About 18 months ago, I saw TV On The Radio play a show at The Fox Theater. The opening band was a group called Dirty Projectors. I thought they had a lot of brilliant ideas, but seemed a bit “loose.” The songs never seemed to end, they just crashed, but they had some great singers and it looked like, once they took the time to solidify their sound, they were going to become great. A short while later, a record called Bitte Orca was released, a stunning blend of I-Three’s inspired reggae, 21st century classical composition and indie pop. It became my favorite record of 2009. I was curious to see how they would bring this sound to the live show, especially after seeing their live show before the finished the record. After three visits that sold out rather quickly, I finally got to see it.

Dominique Young Unique was a bit of a surprise as the opening act. She was backed by a beatmaker and a keyboardist (that rested his keyboard on an ironing board!), and managed to pull off a very schizophrenic version of contemporary pop music. This was a very risky move, and much to my surprise, seemed to work. The crowd, primarily males in their late 20’s and early 30’s, managed to be the kind of crowd that Unique was working for. People danced and pogoed and even managed to put their hands in the air at all the right moments. Unique managed to pull this off by not playing to the crowd as if they were all avant-pop loving hipsters, but instead fought to prove that everyone just like to have a good time sometimes.

Her set itself short and swift. Every song moved right into the next, keeping the energy at 110%, and pretty much making sure that you have no time to stop moving. Her songs are all very frantic, almost MIA-inspired tempos, and her delivery is reminiscent of a younger, brattier Eve. The only time she stopped in her set at all was for her current single, “The World Is Mine,” which she managed to segue right in to her first single, “Show My Ass,” which was punctuated by a dance that consisted of merely flexing gluteous maximus to the rhythm. Her set, already full of energy, climaxed with her keyboardist destroying his ironing board, and playing sideways.

The Dirty Projectors came out to the sounds of the NWA classic “Straight Outta Compton,” followed by an mc shouting the names of the entire group as the walked out. They then ran straight into an especially aggressive version of The Getty Address’s “I Will Truck,” which in record is a bit of afro-pop meets musique concrete, but was re-interpreted as an amped up rock song. On record this song features a lot of loops, horns and strings. In the live setting, this sounds were all created by the amazing vocal trio of Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian and Hayley Denkle. They were hitting sounds that I wouldn’t believe were humanly possible.

Of course, for those unfamiliar with the band, they’ve been around for many, many years, but I don’t feel that they really found their sound until they fully integrated these three stunning voices into the fix. Band leader David Longsreth is a good songwriter with an interesting voice and amazing compositional chops, but I felt he spent the early part of his time doing Dirty Projectors finding himself and his sound. And when they pulled out the deep catalog at this show, which was surprisingly often, the difference was like night + day.  It’s amazing how a trio of truly talented singers could truly change a song.

About midway through the set, they played a few songs of their collaboration with Bjork, Mount Wittenberg Orchestra, which featured in a prominent role Angel Deradoorian, whom was primarily focusing on keyboards and harmonies, but had opportunity to show of her own amazing singing chops when accompanied by Longstroth soley on acoustic guitar.

After the mellow portion in the middle of the set, the band went back into full throttle mode, with Lonsgreth pulling out seering guitar riffs that are inspired by african folk music, and still powerful vocals, getting more intense as the show went on. Nobody on stage stayed still for a moment, even during the most complex work. And for this band, complex is an under statement. We have songs that change time signatures at least 6 times in a song, sometimes in the middle of a phrase. Dekkle and Coffman would jump up and down while singing the entire staff at once without losing a breath or a beat. If something could be described as both beautful and ferocious, it’s this live show.

Even the more familiar tracks, like Bitte Orca’s single “Cannibal Resource” and the impossibly infectious “Stillness Is The Move” were brought to a whole new energy level in this setting. “Stillness…” was given the full-blown, triumphant hit treatment by stretching it out. It also gave Coffman a chance to come out as a frontperson, a role that Longstreth seemed to be keeping to himself throughout most of the show. She can work a crowd better than most usual frontpeople, making eye contact with as many people as possible, and feeding off the energy perfectly.

They encore was a bit more subdued the the main set, until they ended with a sweeping version of the Black Flag classic “Rise Above,” complete with the chants of “Rise Above! We’re Gonna Rise Above” song in a round by the ladies of Dirty Projectors. It was an awesome way to end a glorious show!

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All photos (except the set list photo) were by the amazing Kara Murphy. Check out her Flikr!

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