Photograph by Jason Williamson.
2012 has seen the Dirty Projectors become an increasingly approachable band. Whereas contemporaries like Liars and Grizzly Bear have ditched the respective big riffs and bigger choruses that won their previous records such plaudits, Dave Longstreth’s collective have opted to experiment with what it might be like to focus on warm melodies and singalong choruses, rather than the idiosyncratic yelps and protracted concept albums that made their name. And from looking around tonight it seems that becoming friendlier (if not necessarily better) on the ears is paying off – tonight’s Roundhouse gig is their biggest headline show on these shores to date.
It’s not just in their sound that the Dirty Projectors are an easier proposition these days. Even to look at them, all smiles and knowing glances between frontman Longstreth and the apple of his eye Amber Coffman on guitar, it’s like a weight’s been lifted off their shoulders. Things happen at tonight’s gig that might seem normal for any other band – jokey banter with the crowd, a genuine appreciation for our attendance, reacting to minor technical difficulties with a grin and a shrug rather than an almighty huff – but that still seems peculiar when you remember how comparatively uptight and introverted this lot have been at shows in years gone by. And the fact that they seem to be really enjoying being in Dirty Projectors at the minute makes them all the more of a joy to watch.
Of course, this quintet is not a normal band, as the levels of musicianship are completely off the scale. It’s a testament to their deft arranging skills that you only really notice how complicated a new song like the gorgeous ‘About To Die’ is when you see exactly what goes in to playing it, but even then the technicalities of its performance don’t overwhelm that marvellous chorus. This is the other way in which Dirty Projectors are noticeably different now from the band they spawned from – they’re finally hitting the same heights in terms of passionate, personal involvement in performing the song as they are with getting every note in precisely the right place.
Gripes with tonight’s performance can only be small, but if there is one thing that is missing, it’s the element of danger; it used to be thrilling to watch them exist so far out on a limb that they might tumble off the radar at any minute but you’re far less likely to get surprises watching Dirty Projectors’ 2012 incarnation. They’re very much in Swing Lo Magellan mode – all but two songs are played from their newest LP this evening – but sounding very comfortable in it; even numbers like the queasy R&B of ‘Gun Has No Trigger’ are tonight delivered through infectious, beaming grins.
It might be their most approachable record, but it’s not currently their audience’s favourite. The biggest cheers are reserved for numbers from Bitte Orca, their 2009 breakthrough, getting louder as they move through ‘Cannibal Resource’, ‘No Intention’ and a mid-encore slaying of biggest hit ‘Stillness Is The Move’ (which to this day sounds utterly astounding). Even if Magellan fails to hit quite those heights, Dirty Projectors should be extremely proud of the new ground it sees them cover, and especially of what it’s made them in to as a live band: one with now as many strings to their bow as there are vocal harmonies to their unique songs.