Review: Up close with Dirty Projectors at the Troubadour

Dirty Projectors
David Longstreth, left, of Dirty Projectors is up for a Grammy Award for recording package.
(Shawn Brackbill)

A restlessly experimental art-rock band from hipster-choked Brooklyn, Dirty Projectors wouldn’t seem to be the type of act likely to engage in the music-industry showboating that defines the week-long run-up to the Grammy Awards.

And yet there was David Longstreth, the group’s gangly, word-drunk frontman, standing on the edge of the Troubadour’s stage Tuesday night as a capacity crowd sang along with “See What She’s Seeing,” a characteristically frenetic cut from last year’s “Swing Lo Magellan.” Longstreth made sure to point out that his platform was relatively small -- a “reluctant catwalk,” he called it, before wondering how Axl Rose ever made do with the Troubadour stage’s size back in Guns N’ Roses’ early days. Even so, the moment felt big for the singer and for Dirty Projectors; it carried an undeniable current of rock-star energy.

Those moments kept recurring throughout Tuesday’s show, which followed a string of concerts in Asia and came shortly before Longstreth vies for his first Grammy on Sunday. (As “Swing Lo Magellan’s” art director, he’s nominated for a recording package Grammy.)

In “Offspring Are Blank,” Longstreth and Amber Coffman peeled off mock-heroic guitar licks that inspired several audience members to pump their fists in real-heroic fashion. And fans broke into mid-song applause later when Coffman and the band’s two other female singers -- Haley Dekle and Olga Bell -- zipped through the rapid-fire vocal calisthenics of “When the World Comes to an End,” a 2010 collaboration with Björk.


You could attribute some of that reaction to the thrill of seeing an A-list indie band in unusually close quarters. On recent visits to L.A., Dirty Projectors has played the roomier Wiltern and Walt Disney Concert Hall, and last month, the group sold out Carnegie Hall in New York. It’s scheduled to appear on “Conan” on Wednesday.

Unlike many Grammy-week underplays, though -- think of Fall Out Boy at the Roxy on Thursday or Emmylou Harris’s Saturday-night gig at the Troubadour -- this show wasn’t about proximity to fame (such as it is on the indie rock A-list). It was allowing a closeup look at how the band’s songs work through the weird interplay between trebly guitars and Nat Baldwin’s loping bass in “About to Die” and the crisp polyrhythms in “Dance for You.”

Near the end of its 90-minute set, Dirty Projectors offered an appealingly hollowed-out version of its 2009 underground hit “Stillness Is the Move,” which made it clear how deeply Coffman has internalized Mariah Carey’s singing in “Always Be My Baby.”

That tune seemingly set the stage for the band’s much-discussed cover of “Climax,” the beautiful Usher ballad nominated this year for the R&B performance Grammy. But as comfortable with approaching the mainstream as Dirty Projectors seemed Tuesday, it stopped short of a full embrace: Instead of Usher’s streamlined megahit, the group tackled “Rise Above” by Black Flag.



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