How much can you learn from several rows’ worth of bobbing heads in front of the stage during a Dirty Projectors show? More than you’d think. (For starters, avant-pop is surprisingly popular among the backward-baseball-cap-wearing crowd.) But perhaps the biggest lesson learned during Wednesday night’s performance at The Trocadero was that—despite Dave Longstreth’s impressive ability to combine noisy guitar skronk and high-minded musical concepts with more conventional songwriting techniques—Dirty Projectors’ blend of experimental indie-pop doesn’t lend itself to the kind of “oh-man-ARE-YOU-FEELING THIS” live experience many show-goers were apparently looking for.
The fact that tracks such as “Cannibal Resource” (from last year’s Bitte Orca)—with all their stop-and-start lurches and other rhythmic shifts—aren’t of the toe-tapping, head-bopping variety is hardly a revelation. But, when the band began playing that very song early into Wednesday night’s set, damned if those in attendance didn’t try to force it anyway. The result was reminiscent of, say, the scene at any given math-rock show in the mid-’90s: members of the crowd initially moving with the beat, getting lost, clumsily nodding out of step with the song, then standing still for a moment while trying to find the rhythm once again. Repeat that process during “Temecula Sunrise” and “No Intention”—two other big crowd-pleasers of the night—all the way through the rest of the band’s 80-minute set, and you get the idea.
The funny thing is—unlike the aforementioned math-rock bands of yesteryear—it’s not as if Longstreth is intentionally trying to trip his audience up for the sole sake of showcasing his considerable technical prowess. It’s more that Dirty Projectors’ music works as both intellectually challenging art-rock and crowd-friendly pop at the same time—simultaneously satisfying both the brain and the the body in two very separate ways, and creating an irreconcilable disconnect between the two. Yeah, we know that sounds like a bunch of bullshit, but seriously: The next time you see Dirty Projectors live, try telling the rest of your body to stop awkwardly moving on its own when “Stillness Is The Move” makes the jarring transition from the main riff to the bridge, and let us know how that works out for you. It didn’t go so well for the audience at The Troc two nights ago.