Dirty Projectors + Polar Bear + Lucky Dragons
Scala, 2nd April 2009
A pile of junk is neatly laid out in the middle of the room, a spotlight shining down on it. Looking closely it still doesn’t make sense, like being drunk or taking off your glasses; the objects look half-familiar but your brain finds it impossible to alight upon their meaning or purpose.
Kids with beards, chunky cardigans, specs, plimsolls, checkshirts - all the necessary accoutrements of London scenesters - sit in a Brownie Guide circle, cross-legged and curious-bashful. Lucky Dragons appears – a youngish wiry guy – kneels in his exposed electronic playpen, and starts up.
The first five minutes he’s laying out his wares, seeing where he can go, dipping our ears in the possibilities. A laptop and a box of buttons and faders are discernible – they conduct throbbings, hummings & tweetings, skittering and shaking sounds melting together and crumbling apart. The second five minutes and this melodica-panpipe-stick emerges, through which he conjures some free riffing. Hmm.
It’s getting worringly ‘ambient’-slash-Sounds of the Amazon Vol. I, and I’m just about to turn to my compadre and call it bollocks when:
Mr Dragons starts shaking what we’ll call a ‘shakeysticknoisemaker’, dancing around with it, cobra-necking. He hands the shakeystick to someone nearby, picks up another and starts handing out a whole bundle of them, more and more, until the inner ring of spectators has become an instrument in itself, shakeysticks cracking and coming together spontaneously in-and-out of rhythm.
The music goes on. Mr Dragons gives the people freedom without direction, and they respect the project. It’s too right-on for words.
Next, the shakeysticks are gathered in and what we’ll call toyrocknoisemakers are given out. This time there are dozens of them, it seems, and they work like magnets over a central box of conduction/magic, a bit like an E bow for a guitar but totally unfathomable to my brain. Later there’s the snakecordnoisemaker which comes alive when people grab its ‘tails’ and then lock hands, connecting circuits and chiming chords and sweet dischords, reaching across the circle in search of new sounds. It’s somewhere between a physics class and an autism therapy workshop – people are re-learning sounds, lights, shapes, each other.
It’s not music, man, it’s a sound-connection. It’s for hippies, dead simple, and maybe we all want to be.
Polar Bear, for the uninitiated, are a typically couldn’t-make-it-up Upset The Rhythm band – two sax, one drums, one double bass, one guitar/laptop/balloon/Xbox controller (it certainly looked like one), and one afro.
Exploring an invigorating seam of jazz/noise, they freefall into free jazz, almost abandoning harmony and melody at points, and scare you up with rubber pink balloon vs sax face-offs before shaking you up with madcap time signature wacky races, finally falling back into a groovy pulse - yes, groovy, which in their hands becomes a satisfying reprieve of Yow! funkiness after a section of skronking brainmelt.
Overall, it’s like having a pipe cleaner go in one ear and out the other. That, is a messy headfuck with squeaky clean aftertaste. Fresh.
I had forgotten quite how charming Dirty Projectors are. How can anyone in their right mind not fall for them as they knock out these gift-wrapped slices of crispy genius, barely breaking a sweat?
Dave Longstreth’s fingers glide over the strings, his left and right hands each apparently using their own brain, at a speed so fast it makes rhythm more like spasm, only accentuated by his Mother Goose neck-jerk moves. But it’s all perfect, incredibly perfect.
And the girls! Nothing is quite like a DP harmony performed live. How they get that kind of purity of tone, note & timbre live I just can’t understand.
Dirty Projectors have such an unadulterated streak of originality that you can never forget you’re watching a former Yale composition student and (possibly certified) genius here, even when he forgets how to play ‘Rise Above’. Only for a minute though.