On Thursday, a line spilled into Geary Boulevard around the corner of the historic Fillmore in anticipation of an evening of mid-aughts indie staples. Opening up for Deerhunter, the Dirty Projectors brought echoes of their cultivated effervescent sound but ultimately got lost in a set marred by technical hiccups and general discombobulation.
The group began in relatively strong fashion with “What Is the Time,” melding from a fairly simple, percussive intro into lead singer David Longstreth’s warbling voice. There was a satisfying escalation to the song, crescendoing into its chorus of “What is the time when I can call you by your name? / I don’t know why it’s been so long.” The line was augmented by backup vocals by the rest of the group, making for a nice cohesive moment that was all too short-lived.
This exuberance quickly dissipated into what would become a running theme of the show, with multiple elements out of sync. In the case of this opening song, it was the drums, which pounded the downbeats into submission, to the point where all other noise was barely intelligible through the reverberation.
The Dirty Projectors’ music is grounded in a sort of layered, precariously put-together sound, with instrumentals circling above and around each other amid Longstreth’s warping vocals. It’s right on the edge of what could come across as faux avant-garde nonsense, but the band’s conceit generally works. In its live rendering, however, the gears of this sound just did not click.
Discombobulation continued to plague the group in “Break-Thru,” one of its more recognizable songs. Beginning with a twangy riff, the dipping percussion, guitar, bass and swing of Longstreth’s voice just couldn’t connect. The harmonies were off, and the group left out the song’s satisfying string-led outro, instead heading right into another thumper. Songs such as “I Feel Energy” and “Cannibal Resource” would similarly start strong but quickly fall apart in a complex rigmarole of instrumentation.
As disjointed as most of the set felt, one positive was the egalitarian nature of the band. Though billed as the group’s primary member, Longstreth didn’t hold the spotlight for the entirety of the show, sharing the stage with band members Maia Friedman, Felicia Douglass and Kristin Slipp throughout the night. And with six members on a variety of instruments, it was a crowded scene, which left little room for choreography, leading to what would become an awkward dance of instrumentalists navigating back and forth through one another, struggling to shift around the performance space.
The remainder of the set continued in clunky fashion. There often seemed to be a disconnect between the band members themselves and the audience. It was difficult to tell at times whether the semi-long gaps between songs were for tuning, for adjustments or because no one really knew what was going on.
There was also little banter throughout the night, but Longstreth’s back-and-forth with the crowd also fit an awkward pattern. Attempting to organize a call and response for “Right Now,” the group’s lead track off of its latest release, Lamp Lit Prose, Longstreth called for the crowd to divide itself into what he described as “warring factions looking to out-sing each other,” adding, “if that’s OK.” He then launched into a self-described “Byzantine” hopscotch of repetitions of “right now” with the crowd, but as the group started the crowd work in earnest, the call and response quickly fizzled. Again, though, it was hard to tell because everything was so loud.
The group ended with “Impregnable Question,” a slower song from further back in the group’s discography. As the final notes of the song clanged out from the various instruments onstage, the lyrics felt particularly applicable: “It would help to seek / Comfort in destiny / But I really don’t / We don’t see eye to eye.” Though the Dirty Projectors brought high energy and a commendable, multi-instrumental effort, the evening as a whole did not quite come together.
Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].