Dirty Projectors - Live At The Roundhouse, London

Bewildering, but brilliant.

Abstract art? What's that all about then? Everyone likes a nice pencil sketch of a dog, don't they? Or a lovely watercolour of a seaside scene? All that other stuff, the elephant faeces and the sharks in tanks, well, it's all just bollocks, isn't it?

The subjectivity of interpretation will always mean that one man's Pollock is another man's consequence of redecorating the lounge. As it is with Dirty Projectors. They do an abstract take on a familiar form, and as such, it can leave you pensively staring with a faintly quizzical expression.

From the balcony tonight you can spot examples of it. People trying to dance, before finding the beat has shifted and it now just looks like they're shuffling uncomfortably from side to side. People trying to join in with the hand claps on ‘Just From Chevron’ until realisation dawns that there are at least three different patterns going on, and who should you copy, and oh, this is just a disaster.

It certainly isn't meat 'n' potatoes rock. It's twice-baked soufflé topped with truffle foam, served with a sommelier recommended Sauvignon and some freshly baked savoury tuiles rock. While at times it can all get a bit overwhelmingly rich, it is never, ever, dull.

One of the things which adversely affected the last album 'Swing Lo Magellan' was that it was so fussy. Endlessly and frustratingly tweaking songs into ultimate ambivalence. Live, the fiddling isn't so prominent, and the bafflement can give way to admiration. There's still the odd occasion when it doesn't quite work, 'The Socialites' seems half a step away from meshing, so all of the elements clash in uncomfortable disharmony, but most of the time Dirty Projectors do cerebral and likeable in equal proportion.

There are some parts that are astonishing. Any song which can, in a four minute lifespan, bring to mind a chain-gang, 1980s hair metal riffs and someone violently strumming the opening chords of 'Jumpin’ Jack Flash' (as they manage of 'Offspring Are Blank'), is worth a lot. As is any song which resembles Brian Wilson inviting Ladysmith Black Mambazo into his sandpit for a demonstration of the pitch shifting capabilities of his new digital processing unit ('See What She Seeing').

It is odd. But it's playfully odd. Throw that against the undeniable craft and their ever-impressive way with a melody on display and it prevents it ever becoming an impenetrable study on the boundaries of musical acceptability.

And in an expressionist kind of way, through the chaos some incredible shapes are formed. 'Wittenberg IV' (also known as 'Beautiful Mother') is half Beethoven's ‘Ode to Joy’ and half one of those things you use to test the various channels of your surround sound system. Bewildering, but brilliant.

Which is Dirty Projectors in a nutshell. Seemingly random splashes of paint on a canvas. A portrait with a nose where the ear should rightfully be. To some a mess. To others, a masterpiece.

 

Words by Tim Lee

Photos by Matt Wash

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