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Concert Review: Dirty Projectors at Rhythm Room

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Last night at the Rhythm Room, Dirty Projectors held our hands and led us on an auditory cross-country journey. Each song performed was like a different piece of scenery along the trip, with sometimes unpredictable tempo changes and vocals that varied from airy to jarring. The experimental indie band from Brooklyn has been releasing albums since 2003's The Glad Fact, but it was this year that proved to be their breakout. June saw the release of Bitte Orca, which received critical praise and subsequent airplay on indie radio stations.

The show's voyage began quietly, like the morning of a long-day's drive, with frontman Dave Longstreth singing and playing alone onstage. After the first song, the other members of the band joined him onstage, picking up the pace and diversifying the vocals, and the peaks and valleys of the musical scenery became more pronounced. With every song that passed, it felt like traveling through a new, quirky locale. "Temecula Sunrise" had the feel of visiting an aunt and uncle in suburbia with lyrics that mention new-construction homes and proximity to a car dealership, while the quiet and sparse "Two Doves" evoked the image of stopping the car spontaneously to walk through a corn field in the moonlight. Still other songs were more frantic in nature with hectic guitar and unexpected vocal bleats, like driving a precarious mountain pass fraught with hairpin turns and steep cliffs.

The interplay between Longstreth's sometimes cacophonous voice and the tightly knit, ethereal vocals of the three female vocalists (Angel Deradoorian, Haley Dekle, and Amber Coffman) was remarkable, and the precision was nothing short of amazing, with staccato bursts of sound from the individual vocalists combining to form a sort of symphony, pitch-perfect and hypnotic.

If the music was meant to be a sort of road trip, the audience responded accordingly. During the set, which did not end until after midnight, there was occasional bickering in the back of the venue much like siblings stuck in the backseat for too long. There was the "don't make me turn this car around" sensation when the band only started playing a song once the audience was completely silent. When the songs became slower in nature, the audience was visibly falling asleep at the wheel, losing focus on the music, swaying less and chatting more. But leave it to Dirty Projectors to pick the audience right back up with their mercurial twists of tempo (sometimes even within the same song), the way kids on a long trip in a minivan might pick up after a stop for ice cream. Ultimately, the DPs were not just providing the soundtrack for a voyage; they were in the driver's seat and we were all along for the ride.

The set was long, and it was obvious that the majority of the audience was only familiar with the band's most recent release, so the attention waned near the end of the show, and the crowd thinned noticeably between the end of the set and the encore. But the Rhythm Room was sold out last night, and those who braved the coldest night Phoenix has seen in months were taken on a nearly two hour musical trip, sometimes erratic, conjuring images of rolling hills and passing trains, ebbing and flowing like an ocean, with Dirty Projectors at the helm, proving that the journey can be as delightful as the destination.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Dirty Projectors at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix

Better Than: Taking a real-life road trip with my parents and older brother, like we used to every summer when I was a kid.

Personal Bias: I'll admit it, I'm one of the ones who didn't start listening to the band until this year, but it was their collaboration with David Byrne, "Knotty Pine," that piqued my interest first, not Bitte Orca.

Random Detail: Dave Longstreth earned a music degree from Yale University.

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