Dirty Projectors brought their new album Swing Lo Magellan to First Avenue in Minneapolis on July 15, 2012, and Purity Ring tagged along for the last of their six dates opening on the tour before their debut LP, Shrines, is released on July 24 via 4AD. I came home from the show with Shrines (at first listen it’s as good as hoped), and a Dirty Projectors’ tour only 7″ (limited to 1000) that cannot be purchased but is free when you tell the merch booth the secret Twitter word for that show (this time it was “Fuel Vapour Hose”). It has the unreleased tracks “Buckle Up” and “Desire to Love”, and only about 20 are being brought to each show. I passed on the “Gun Has No Trigger” square 7″ that comes in a hard case with the lyrics to the song etched into the case in cuneiform. My wife already rolls her eyes at me enough so I didn’t drop $15 for that. It was seriously cool looking though.
Holy [insert favorite curse word here]. I often feel like opening acts get a bit of an inflated grade from me because I go in with lesser expectations. When those expectations are met the band is graded accordingly, but if they are exceeded the grade may not accurately reflect the performance itself. Grade inflation is not a concern here. I have all the tracks Purity Ring has already released and have been eagerly waiting the LP, so I was anticipating seeing them nearly as much as Dirty Projectors. Despite these elevated expectations, the band blew me away. The duo sets up with a simple backdrop of three fabric color panels (pink, green, and orange), a bass drum on a head high stand played occasionally by vocalist Megan James, and a synth table for Corin Roddick. This was no ordinary synth table, though, as it is set with 8 lights that change color throughout the set and were clearly wired to light up and trigger some of the synth sounds when struck with a drum stick. At first I thought the stick work may just be for show with all the synth sounds preprogrammed. After all watching some work a table isn’t the most exciting thing in a live setting. Those thoughts were abandoned, however, when it appeared Corin was having an issue with one of the lights during “Obedear” requiring his attention in between strikes and knob twists. Megan’s later striking of the lights while Corin worked elsewhere on the table reinforced the appearance that the lights were an active instrument. Other than the lights on the synth table, the only lighting for the set was an occasional spot behind the fabric backdrop, a light inside the bass drum that went off when the drum was struck and at a few other times, and a small, almost warehouse-like, light that sat on the floor or was held by Megan. None of the house lighting was used, so the band was primarily in darkness. Add this to the throbbing bass synths, and a complete lack of stage banter until a few sentences prior to the last two songs, and the whole show took on a heavier feel than comes through on record.
The show started with a brooding track I was unfamiliar with, but it did the job of hooking the audience immediately. Following that up with “Belispeak” and “Lofticries” while keeping “Ungirthed” to end of the set put them in position to hold the crowd for the entirety of the show, and it worked. I’ve never seen a First Avenue crowd as enraptured by an opening act (especially one without an LP to their name). It was absolutely phenomenal. This is a band that if you have any interest in synth/electronic music you must see, and soon. They are still young enough that after their set Megan was at the merch table interacting with folks, but she won’t be able to do that much longer.
Purity Ring gets the highest grade I have ever given an opening act: an A.
After Purity Ring, I was concerned Dirty Projectors might suffer by comparison, but those concerns were unfounded. The six band members came out in a much more traditional look of drums, bass, guitars, and synths, with a plain white backdrop and standard lighting, but that is where tradition ended. After opening with the odd choice of “Dance For You”, which I question only because of its tempo and lack of excitement, it is a beautiful song and would have fit perfectly later in the set, but led to an unsteady start, they quickly ramped up. It was absolutely enthralling to watch them create their harmonies and syncopated beats in a live setting. “Just From Chevron” was particularly impressive as the three ladies clapped out different rhythms while simultaneously blending the three part harmonies for which the band is known. I am hardly a musician, but I did play trumpet through college so I can appreciate just how much self control it takes to play outside of standard rhythms, and to do so while singing so purely is remarkable.
The set was dominated as expected by Swing Lo Magellan, with “Gun Has No Trigger” having the lyrics projected behind the band in cuneiform. “Offspring Are Blank” and “The Socialites” were also highlights. (Amber Coffman really got to show off her voice on “The Socialites”. Between her and Megan James there was no shortage of beautiful lead female vocals last night.) After “Cannibal Resource” was played third, Bitte Orca was absent until the penultimate song of the main set when they pulled out an absolutely fantastic version of “Useful Chamber”. The bass was ramped up, the guitar was shredding, and the song became truly heavy (a word I never thought I’d use to describe Dirty Projectors). That was followed by “Unto Caesar”, fast becoming my favorite track on Magellan, which is even better without the album’s admittedly hilarious aside from Amber that Dave Longstreth’s lyrics make no sense.
After a brief break the band returned, but had to change course when Amber’s amp gave out before the encore started. They quickly moved to a song with Amber only on vocals and then closed with “Stillness is the Move” (still fantastic) and a lovely rendition of “Impregnable Question”. It was the type of set that ended far too soon, and those are fairly rare. Accordingly, Dirty Projectors also gets an A.
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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