The glorious promise of art rock, shamelessly fulfilled - such were the best moments of Dirty Projectors' sold-out show on Wednesday in the humid basement of the First Unitarian Church. The Brooklyn band began its headlining summer tour here with head-spinning aplomb, mostly showcasing its enthralling new (fifth) album,
, likely to stand as one of the year's best.
African-influenced lefty guitarist and Dirty Projectors majordomo Dave Longstreth led the way via boldly expressive falsetto croons and swoops, matched by the complex vocal arrangements of Angel Deradoorian, newcomer Hayley Dekle, and Amber Coffman (who took a break from her math-rock guitar-slinging to dance around and soulfully belt out their prog-Mariah single "Stillness Is the Move"). The women combined in sparkling unison or alternating cooing while bassist Nat Baldwin and drummer Brian McOmber (a research technician at Penn) worked the quirky, often startling time shifts.
Highlights included . . . everything: including a three-song mini-set drawn from the 2007 album Rise Above, a reimagining of Black Flag's 1981 classic Damaged LP, Longstreth winding down the title track with nimble runs showing the influence of late Mali blues master guitarist Ali Farka Touré.
Vieux Farka Touré, Ali's 27-year-old son, burned through his earlier, 45-minute set with a tight band of three countrymen and ex-Skeleton Key drummer Tim Keiper, focused almost entirely on material from his excellent new sophomore album, Fondo. Following last Tuesday's fine performance of Amadou & Mariam, it was the second Philly display of crack Malian guitar playing in little over a week - but the itchy energy of youth distinguished Farka Touré, who picked out scintillating torrents of trebly notes.
Skeletons opened, experimental Brooklyn compatriots of Dirty Projectors whose odd free-jazz-rock forays and sung/spoken vocal flights - not to mention conceptual pursuits - earned them early comparisons to the Projectors.