Roseland Theater, Portland, OR

(Photo: Peter Hutchins)

There was a time when a double bill of Brooklyn pop weirdos Dirty Projectors and Atlanta dream-pop shredders Deerhunter would pack a building twice the size of the 1,400-capacity Roseland. Perhaps it’s a symbol of changing times, and perhaps these bands don’t grab people en masse in the way they used to. This isn’t because either band has decreased in quality; the albums made by both bands during the past year—Lamp Lit Prose by Dirty Projectors and Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? by Deerhunter—weren’t on the same level as Bitte Orca or Halcyon Digest, but they were solid releases by bands that clearly still got it, certainly enough to draw more than a half-filled Roseland. No matter: it was the rest of the city’s loss.

Deerhunter were given “opening” duties for this show, and their performance was a potent reminder of how tight they are. Frontperson Bradford Cox, reliable for his oddball outfits, strode out in full “old man” garb: high-waisted tan slacks with a white button-up tucked into it, and a pair of thick Coke-bottle glasses keeping his trademark long mop of hair out of his eyes. Though Cox is a defiantly queer person, Deerhunter’s sound and stage presence are heavy on masculine energy. This can be the nature of loud guitar bands, softened by his gentle (if occasionally troll-like) stage presence. Cox’s inner troll came out just once, where he dedicated the show to someone named Joel, who it turns out wasn’t actually there; later, he quasi-clarified the situation: “Joel is the straightest man I’ve ever dealt with—in more ways than one!”

Previously, I’d only seen the band once (and only briefly from the back of the room at a festival) many years ago, but it felt refreshing to watch a band able to produce loud, dreamy, intricately layered guitar pop in lockstep—they’re no My Bloody Valentine, but they’re definitely cut from the same cloth. They played almost exclusively from Halcyon and Disappeared, with a single foray into 2016’s Fading Frontier (“Take Care”), all of which blended together beautifully. When they arrived at their final song, Halcyon standout “He Would Have Laughed,” and discovered they still had 15 minutes, Cox declared that they would just play it for 15 minutes: “You’ll like it, I promise.” He wasn’t lying, it was fucking awesome.

Dirty Projectors provided a very different balance of energy, entirely devoid of the masculine energy of their tourmates. Half of the people on stage were women, and that trio were given lead duties for substantial chunks of the show. At one point, David Longstreth spent five whole songs on guitar, FX pedal and keyboard duties, letting the women tackle the high notes of the songs. They wore fashion-forward outfits that made me and my Gap dress feel entirely uncool: half-buttoned white suspenders with a terry cotton crop top, light navy culottes with a long-sleeved, translucent sparkly silver crop top, a full jumpsuit that matched the culottes (I’m unsure if this was planned), while Longstreth stood at center stage in white pants and a white sweatshirt.

Regrettably, despite the fact that the show happened on the actual 10th anniversary of Bitte Orca’s release, the band failed to bring the occasion up. In fact, they only played two songs from their breakthrough album, “Cannibal Resource” and “Temecula Sunrise,” the latter of which saw Longstreth changing the line “I know the horizon is bright and motionless/ Like an EKG of a dying woman” to “dying person,” a cleverly subtle update a decade on. When I last saw the band, it was three weeks before the release of last year’s Lamp Lit Prose, which joined their dynamite Swing Lo Magellan for the lion’s share of this show. This time, though, the band felt wholly dialed into those songs, and the crowd vibed off them far better. Shockingly, we were also treated to a set of four brand new songs—“Inner World,” “Search For Life,” “Lose Your Love” and “Overlord”—all of which existed in the Longstreth-less stretch of the show.

Like the Jawbox/Helms Alee performance I caught at the Wonder Ballroom a week prior, this was one of the more satisfying bills of the year. While that show featured Helms Alee firmly in “opening band” mode, working to win over someone else’s crowd, this show presented us with two bands, deep into their excellent careers with nothing to prove, trading off on opener duties to stay balanced. I have no idea what the other 800 people that should have packed the Roseland were doing instead of attending this show, but there’s little chance it was nearly as good.

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