"This is the first time we've played these songs in front of a human audience," said Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth midway through his group's SPIN Live set at Montauk, Long Island's Surf Lodge Saturday night. Then he added, contritely, "Thank you for bearing with us."
Frankly, though, neither he nor his band's five other indie-rock mad scientists had anything to feel anxious about. Sure, it was their first concert since 2010 (not counting the one last year where they played all Black Flag covers). And yes, the weekend set consisted almost exclusively of tracks from their forthcoming album, Swing Lo Magellan, which comes out next Tuesday. But the truth is, Longstreth and his bandmates didn't miss a syncopated beat as they played through one breezy number after another. And more important, each new note the band played seemed to resonate with the audience, who danced along.
The Surf Lodge looks like somebody's converted summer home: The lights are fastened to a fire escape, the bands play on a deck, and to their left is a sandy beach spot, complete with fire pit, the group's backdrop a pink-and-orange sunset shimmering on the water behind them. The group kicked off the night with an equally relaxed feel, as the musicians picked up their instruments and simply began playing, sans introductions. Like the two Swing Lo Magellan songs that have leaked online ("Gun Has No Trigger" and "Dance for You"), most of the tunes balanced melancholy with joyousness, showing off the band's quirky approach to song structure ("Offspring Are Blank" got really, really loud suddenly), but overall the hookiest songs they've written to date, built around intricately collaged instrumentation — handclaps, syncopated guitar playing, and measured drums (one cymbal was even covered with what looked like a pillowcase).
The stars of the night, though, were Longstreth's smooth-to-warbling crooning and the vocal harmonies of guitarist-vocalist Amber Coffman and two newcomers, recalling the sort of lighthearted all-female choruses that backed Sinatra in the '40s. On the album, the vocals sound looped and sampled on tracks like "About to Die," "Just From Chevron," and "The Socialites" (the latter two spotlighting Coffman on lead vocals), but in concert, they sounded almost like freeform improvisation, thanks to the singers' touches.
Near the end of the set, the group revisited two tracks from their 2009 LP, Bitte Orca — "No Intention" and "Cannibal Resource" — but that was where any sort of nostalgia ended. The Dirty Projectors closed the night with Magellan's "Maybe That Was It," a more avant than usual song that sounded a bit like Frank Zappa trying his hand at atonal heavy metal. Longstreth sang the title as he and Coffman dueled on discordant guitar notes in a way that sounded almost as if they were playing it all back in reverse. And when they were done, they departed almost as abruptly as they came, saying their thank-yous and leaving a backdrop of a few pink clouds in their place. After that, the concertgoers offered up applause and cheers before retreating to the beach — Longstreth definitely didn't need to apologize.
Real Estate take the SPIN Live stage on July 7.