On Saturday night, an army wearing flannel shirts, unkempt beards, designer glasses and skinny jeans invaded the Majestic Theater to welcome an event some hipsters may declare as more important than their weddings: The Dirty Projectors were playing.
The general public probably couldn’t care less, but they most likely haven’t heard of the Brooklyn-based band. The overall sound revolves around David Longstreth’s elastic, straining vocals, crunchy, unorthodox guitar chords, irregular Afro-drum beats and the three-part vocal harmonies of singers Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle and Olga Bell. Inevitably, this sound has led to a fair share of divisiveness amongst mainstream listeners, but near-unanimous praise in critic’s circles and the indie blogosphere.
Before the Projectors walked onstage, the fervent hipster-love was palpable. As the Minneapolis-based Night Moves opened, a guy standing next to me displayed cringe-worthy indie pretentiousness when he brought his Pabst Blue Ribbon-breath a little too close to my ear, pushed his thick-framed glasses up his nose and said, “these guys suck,” even though the majority of the crowd was visibly enjoying the band’s sonically-pleasing, floating-on-chillwaves dream pop.
But any arrogance was immediately hushed as soon as Dirty Projectors took the stage. With their faces barely illuminated by a warm, orangish glow, the band launched into “Swing Lo Magellan,” the title track of their most recent album. Guitarist Longstreth’s face showed emotional bliss as he chicken-bobbed his head to the beats engulfing him. The band had an entirely peaceful presence, and the Majestic’s intimate lighting made no attempt to exploit the band or create an in-your-face performance. This was a concert that didn’t beg for the audience’s attention, but the entire crowd gave it willingly.
As the night drew on, Longstreth acknowledged the crowd’s fervent appreciation. He asked, “If this hadn’t been Madison, what would you have thrown?” This got the audience laughing a bit, but any chuckles were soon drowned out when the band jumped into “Beautiful Mother,” a track from their 2010 collaboration with Björk, and EP titled Mount Wittenberg Orca.
“Mother” features rapid-fire interplay between the three female vocalists, and as I stood there listening to their chilling vocals, I gained a newfound appreciation for the human voice. The sound of three voices in perfect harmony is one of the most beautiful noises in the entire world. It helped that their tightly-knit harmonies ebbed and flowed throughout nearly every song in the set, and what resulted was a night of constant awe and innumerable goosebump flare-ups.
Adding to the sense of awe were the uncanny similarities between their live performances and the studio versions. During “Gun Has No Trigger,” the band executed a collage of floating harmonies punctuated by sharp percussion in a performance that sounded exactly as it does on Swing Lo Magellan. I was awestruck when I realized that some of the sounds I had always thought were overdubbed on their albums were, in fact, human sounds.
Before the band leapt into their encore, Longstreth looked out at the crowd and proudly declared, “Two hours and 90 minutes ago, you all walked into the Majestic, hoping to see something majestic. But the truth is — the majesty is you.” But he was being modest. This was a concert that somehow managed to extinguish the snarky personalities of several hundred hipsters and unite the audience in nearly an hour and a half of collective awe, substituting pretension for astonishment. I’d call that majestic.