By Maya Kosoff
Experimental rock outfit Dirty Projectors and opener Delicate Steve sparkled Sunday night, April 14, at the Westcott Theater.
Check out our photo gallery from the show.
There are approximately 28,698 people in the U.S. named Michael Johnson, the U.S. Census Bureau tells us, but the only one who really mattered last night — as the lead singer kept reminding the audience — was the one keeping tempo Sunday night, drumsticks in hand, for experimental indie-rock group Dirty Projectors at the Westcott Theater. The six-piece ensemble, centered by musical nucleus David Longstreth on guitar and vocals, captivated an eager-to-please and ready-to-groove audience — but not before the crowd was primed by opening band Delicate Steve.
The Jersey-based opener experimental jam quintet’s psychedelic set, punctuated by waning guitar, gratuitous synth, and the occasional pre-recorded sound of a babbling brook or a chirping bird, was even more powerful in what it lacked: vocals. Instead, frontman (the allegedly delicate) Steve’s guitar carried the set. The single time Steve opened his mouth and made a sound was during a particularly cathartic song, in which there was complete silence for a long ten to fifteen seconds — except for his deliberate, uncomfortable breathing into the mic. Delicate Steve and his band of merry men delighted a small crowd of early arrivals, completely disregarding the fact that the audience seemed largely unfamiliar with their set.
By the time Dirty Projectors took the stage, the crowd had doubled in size, filling more than half of the Theater. And from the opening strains of the title track of 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, Longstreth, along with Johnson at the rhythmic helm, Olga Bell (keyboard), Amber Coffman (guitar), Haley Dekle (percussion), and Nat Baldwin (bass), entertained with a delightfully humble, yet playful, approach. “Are there any writing majors here? We wanted to sit in on a George Saunders class,” said Longstreth in a seeming half-joke between songs. “Until we realized it was Sunday.”
Ethereal, three-part vocal melody fused with Johnson’s careful tempo-keeping and cymbal accents in “Beautiful Mother” enchanted the crowd. Despite technical difficulties with a pesky amp, Dirty Projectors kept spirits high with onstage camaraderie. Songs like “About to Die” and Just from Chevron” made fans dance. Longstreth’s multi-octave voice, perhaps a result of his brief time spent studying music at Yale, was intoxicating, but the real show-stealer was Johnson’s syncopated percussion, perforating nearly every song on the setlist. The hour-and-a-half-long set and encore provided a taste of what Dirty Projectors is all about: a showcase of raw vocal talent and methodical instrumental beats, a medley of frenetic and otherworldly sounds, a refusal to fit into a single, definable description.