Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
06/19/2018

One of the most exciting aspects of music in the internet age is how quickly the weirdest musicians are able to take over. I was introduced to Dirty Projectors through their 2005 album The Getty Address, a bizarre “glitch opera” about Don Henley. They followed this with Rise Above, in which they cover Black Flag’s Damaged entirely from memory, despite not having heard the album in well over a decade. Fast forward to today, where Longstreth has utilized his bizarre ear for pop hooks (see: the entirety of their 2009 breakout Bitte Orca) where they collaborated with and produced music by Solange (he worked on A Seat at the Table!) and Kanye West (he produced the Rihanna/Paul McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds”!) despite still being, for lack of a better term, an “art weirdo.”

If Dirty Projectors have pop/alt-rock radio appeal, outside of Longstreth being behind some killer production work, I’m not aware of it—which made the younger skew of the concert crowd around me very strange. A sizable chunk of the people in my sightline looked as though they were 14-year-olds who’d gotten lost on their way to another concert entirely. Perhaps this is a sign that our nation’s teens are finding joy in the weird, avant-pop leanings of last year’s woozy, sad-sack classic Dirty Projectors, an album detailing his breakup with former member Amber Coffman. Portland didn’t get to see how the music of the self-titled album worked live, because the show was more a treat to the summery brightness of Lamp Lit Prose stacked against the former’s darker, moodier and sometimes muddier textures.

I’ve never loved seeing a band touring to promote an album that hasn’t been released yet. “That song was from our new album, Lamp Lit Prose, which will be out in… three weeks?” said Longstreth after opener “I Found It in U.” The less-than-glad fact about touring is that these things are all too common, but it changes the experience of a show immensely when a band performs a sizable chunk of its newest album to a group of people who have, more likely than not, only heard a couple of the songs from said album. It’s a good thing, then, that Lamp Lit Prose is a collection of songs that do translate wonderfully live, even if you haven’t heard any of it (or, in my marginally-privileged case, have only heard it once). Longstreth clearly worked through some darker feelings with Dirty Projectors, and it’s honestly inspiring to hear him back to the infectiously-chipper arpeggiated guitars he’s managed to turn into a trademark aesthetic.

The least-glad fact here is that their completely understandable reliance on Prose made it hard to latch onto the band, so much so that immersion felt remarkably difficult, though not impossible. Their set was punctuated by songs from Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan as well, and the energy shift when these older songs hit was staggering. “I lived in Portland for about three months 10 years ago—here’s a song I wrote then,” Longstreth said as he strummed out the opening notes of “Cannibal Resource” amidst ecstatic cheers. My last experience seeing Dirty Projectors was in the subdued, seated-and-not-interested-in-singing-or-dancing-all-ages balcony of the Aladdin when Bitte Orca came out, giving it—as well as “No Intention” —a catharsis I didn’t expect to feel for a song I’ve seen live before. We didn’t get knockout songs like Magellan’s “Gun Has No Trigger” or “Offspring are Blank,” or even Dirty Projectors’ “Death Spiral” or “Winner Takes Nothing,” but we did get an encore featuring “Swing Lo Magellan” —performed with Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson, which made just about every face in the room light up like a Christmas tree—and their version of Black Flag’s “Rise Above.”

For as much of an arguable party foul as it is to promote an album that the audience can’t then go buy at the merch table, the band was still able to provide enough already well-loved material to keep the show engaging, if not entirely immersive like it would be otherwise. Here’s hoping the band tour behind this material once the record is out—if only because the energy that they’ll create when people can sing along to everything will be worth their trip back to the Northwest.

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