TV On The Radio
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The last time Dirty Projectors played a big outdoor show in New York was in downtown Manhattan last summer. A huge lightning storm played out in the sky behind the stage, providing the type of backdrop the members of AC/DC have spent their entire careers dreaming about. A remarkable act of synergy occurred just before the plugs were pulled on the show. Singer/guitarist Dave Longstreth jumped into the air and hit the stage at the precise moment that a huge bolt of lightning struck behind him. It may have been the most rock and roll moment of any show, ever. Fast-forward to early June 2009 and Dirty Projectors are out in the rain again, this time as part of the inaugural concert at Central Park’s annual SummerStage season. There’s no lightning for Longstreth to dance with this time. Instead, the band are greeted by a sea of umbrellas and the true definition of a tough crowd — a large group of drenched New Yorkers.
It would be an understatement to say that audiences in this city don’t take well to standing in the rain. Hardy Glastonbury regulars would no doubt stifle a few giggles at the pained expressions creeping over people’s faces on this blustery evening. Nevertheless, the band members amble on stage, looking slightly embarrassed to be there, with Longstreth clad in a cardigan that looks like it was thieved from his dad’s wardrobe. Their set is comprised entirely of songs from Bitte Orca, beginning with ‘Two Doves’, which has been stripped of its string arrangement and pared down to just guitar and vocals. The sound is muddy at first, and it’s difficult to see the band over the mass of umbrellas. These aren’t the best circumstances to witness this new incarnation of Dirty Projectors, who are supplemented by bassist Nat Baldwin and vocalist Haley Dekle. But they hit their stride three songs in, with a sublime reworking of ‘Remade Horizon’.
The live version of ‘Remade...’ begins in the middle of the recorded incarnation of the song, as Dekle swaps note-perfect harmonies with Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. Longstreth reflects their vocal cooing with some seriously prickly soloing before dragging the song back to its recorded origins. There’s some awkwardness at play, engendering a feeling that the band aren’t fully comfortable with bringing these tracks out into the open just yet. But Dirty Projectors songs thrive on an ungainly tension. The clumsy segue into the “Bitte Orca/Orca Bitte” refrain in ‘Useful Chamber’ is all part of their charm, and is mirrored in Longstreth’s gawky onstage presence, which is all pointy elbows and jerky chicken-head movements. Coffman gets her Mariah Carey on for ‘Stillness Is The Move’, which sounds like a summer hit desperately searching for the sun, and generates the first stirrings among this painfully stoic crowd.
Thankfully, there will be better surroundings in which to witness Bitte Orca this year. TV On The Radio, on the other hand, are coming to the end of their promotional duties for Dear Science, and this is a serious event for them. It’s the largest paying crowd they’ve attracted in the city that spawned them, and there’s a tinge of disappointment in Tunde Adebimpe’s voice as he graciously thanks us for coming out in the downpour. He didn’t need to worry. A miraculous piece of unspoken groupthink causes most people to close their umbrellas as the band take to the stage. Somehow, listening to the opening of ‘Love Dog’ in sheets of rain, with the band bathed in soft blue light, suddenly makes a lot of sense. And when Tunde lets his beautiful falsetto ripple into the Central Park air, it induces a palpable feeling of magic — one of those rare occasions when a song can really take you out of the moment.
Much of the set is culled from material they’ve been playing for the past year. A smattering of old songs (‘Wolf Like Me’, ‘Staring at the Sun’, ‘Blues From Down Here’) mixed in with offerings from Dear Science. They’re supplemented by a brass section on loan from Antibalas, who mask David Sitek as he toils away at the back of the stage, seemingly happy to let his two singers bask in the goodwill foisted on them by the crowd. Tunde and Kip Malone are at their charming best, checking to see if we’re okay and giving the audience a big thumbs up when they realise the rain has thinned out and then abated.
It’s difficult to think of a more endearing pair of frontmen than Malone and Adebimpe. Malone is a passive presence on stage, often performing with his eyes tight shut and hitting some ridiculously Prince-like high notes on ‘Golden Age’. It’s amazing that he doesn’t require a swift kick in the balls to scale such peaks. Adebimpe frequently transforms into a sinewy ball of energy when he pulls himself away from his small bank of keyboards, making the songs feel more robust than their recorded counterparts. He’s at his best during the full-blooded delivery of one of the band’s oldest tracks, ‘Young Liars’. Maybe it’s the thrill of performing before a hometown crowd, but Adebimpe seems to have an unyielding faith in his craft, his commitment often mirroring that of the young Ian MacKaye. A shout out to Brooklyn elicits the biggest cheer of the night during the encores, and the band members leave the stage to a horde of smiling faces, their capricious impulses replaced with an unshakable belief in this transformative band.
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