I have to admit, the idea of hearing the Dirty Projectors play a "rock concert" was difficult for me to imagine just a few days ago. Maybe it's that the recent Bitte Orca is a squeaky-clean bit of art-rock that's more art than rock, cut with an Exacto rather than a rusty switchblade. They're clearly listening to Nico Muhly as much as they're paying dues to the Talking Heads.
So I was skeptical of seeing these guys and girls play a JellyNYC Pool Party and not, say, a BAM theater show. Sunday's show on the Williamsburg waterfront was indeed a shorts-and-tees, sun-on-the-pavement, summer banger alright. Openers Magnolia Electric Co. pumped out Mason-Dixon rock with a heavy lean toward A.M. Wilco. The organized dodgeball matches got intense. The drinkers wandered about in their quarantine, then when the Projectors came on they ditched their beers and crossed over to the cordoned-off patch of pavement by the stage.
But from very first notes of the opening song -- a guitar-vocal duet on ballad "Two Doves" between frontman Dave Longstreth and secret-weapon Angel Deradoorian -- the Projectors, well, killed it. And killing it is not an action for artsy, precious finnickers. No sir, this show was built on intense and mathy interplays, wild and staticky bass distortion, four-part harmonies that broke out into primal screams but never devolved.
It was the Projectors' three femme fatales -- particularly the instrument-swapping Deradoorian -- who stole the show. Heaped onto one another on "Cannibal Resource," the three voices may have created one of the thickest walls of sound such a high register has ever heard. And when Amber Coffman and Haley Dekle bounced glitchy "ooh-eeh-ahhs" back and forth at manic speeds on "Remade Horizon," the pitch precision defied even autotune. Blurted-out guitar lines from Longstreth and Amber Coffman on "No Intention" also sounded almost robotic. But the Projectors deep-sixed their own flirtation with binary-code rock with grimy tones on their electrics and vocal tremolos ranging from slight to zealous. When the ladies took center stage on "Stillness Is the Move," it was Coffman's soulful vocal solo that drew the day's most fervent applause.
The Projectors began the set with three tunes from Bitte and rarely deviated from the record after that. They have a right to be partial to an album like this, one that's tight beyond belief but unfurls more uncharted territory with each new listen. It was the reaching into the back catalog, though, namely for "Rise Above" and "Knotty Pine," that turned up the most impressive results. These songs got recastings with twice the cohesion and none of the sags in energy of their recorded versions.
Watching Longstreth cavort across the stage like a maniacal, hunchbacked Jim Carrey, taking in the Battles-go-lightly mathiness of "Temecula Sunrise," hearing crisp African guitar rhythms go up agaisnt fuzz-muddled bass, I realized that it was going to feel almost like cheating to write this review, since anyone with half a wit could find a dozen interesting things to say about music played like this.