Published Jul 29, 2019Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors came out looking like they were going to the Catskills for the summer, with bandleader David Longstreth dressed in a white T-shirt and matching pants, percussionist Felicia Douglass in pastel flares and a tank, and guitarist Maia Friedman in sky blue overalls. Yet, their performance immediately showed that they were in Victoria to work.
To be honest, while I have always appreciated them technically, even their most lauded studio recordings have never really hit home with me, but seeing them perform live put their catalogue in a whole new context. They don't need to rely on studio trickery. Their skill is immense and palpable.
Throughout their set, particularly in moments like the challenging "Beautiful Mother" or the haunting wordless tune of "Gun Has No Trigger" from 2012's Swing Lo Magellan, the vocals of Douglass, Friedman and keyboardist Kristin Slipp shone brightly. There is something so earthy, so folksy, so primally comforting about women performing three-part harmonies, they speak directly to the soul. Their siren call would beckon legions to death on their rocky shores.
Each of them took the lead in various songs too. Douglass came to the fore for new song "Lose Your Love," displaying naked vocal strength, and she pushed out the lyrical meaning with her graceful movements. Friedman followed that with the lead on another new song, lending a sweet fortitude to "Overlord," while Longstreth powered through the entire track on lead guitar despite blowing his strap off almost immediately. Slipp later slipped out from behind her keyboard station to belt out "The Socialites," selling the lyrics with her arms as wide open as her heart. It's staggering that these women have only been in the group since 2018, because they sound like they've always been there.
Musically, the whole band operated on another level. The prickly, precise guitar interplay between Longstreth and Friedman on "No Intention," from 2009's Bitte Orca, was staggering, threading needles through that art-rock tilt. The way they pulled off "Temecula Sunrise" seemed unreal, how they were able to keep that sinking melody stumbling downstairs so off-kilter while hitting it so succinctly that it stayed funky rather than going off the rails. Credit to bassist Nat Baldwin and drummer Mike Johnson for holding it down confidently in the rhythm section.
Throughout the last day of the Backyard Weekender, a hammerhead shark in a Hawaiian shirt circled the Phillips Brewing loading dock, taking in all the bands. However, for the entirety of Dirty Projectors' headlining set, it was leading a school of a half-dozen fish through various swim dance moves. Given how incredible the band was, that shark put the cherry on their Sunday.