Shortly after Dirty Projectors completed their mind-blowing set opening up for TV on the Radio at the House of Blues, vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman came back on stage. When they appeared, the crowd erupted into an ovation, as though they were coming out for an encore — or a curtain call. It was nothing of the sort, of course, they were just disassembling their gear.
VIDEO: Dirty Projectors, "Stillness Is the Move" live at House of Blues
If they had indulged in an encore, it would have been well earned, especially by Coffman — whose stunning R&B-diva vocals in set closer “Stillness Is the Move” rose to “holy shit” levels of impressiveness. It’s amazing to see how her confidence has grown in performing that song in the short time since this South by Southwest performance that made its way to YouTube this past March.
Yes, we have been relentlessly hyping the Projectors’ new Bitte Orca as their breakthrough album for what feels like a long time now, and worry not, we are wary of overdoing it. At the same time, it’s downright difficult to imagine anyone walking out of that show and not being won over. It wasn’t just Coffman’s elevation of “Stillness.” Frontman/mastermind Dave Longstreth is compelling enough on his own. He plays guitar with his whole body, twisting his torso around each spindly riff. And his voice — an unconventional melange of soul tropes, falsetto flutter, and Byrne-ish hollers — somehow never gets lost in the sweeping harmonies of his three backup vocalists. Also easy to marvel at are the ways Longstreth factors four distinct voices into his already intricate arrangements: when the staccato oohs of Coffman and Haley Dekle alternated in the signature riff of “Remade Horizon,” it prompted the night’s first “whoa, these girls are awesome” reaction from the crowd. This is a band who are just figuring out their potential, and for someone who’s been on the bandwagon for a while now, it was exhilarating to watch others catching on.
VIDEO: TV on the Radio, "Red Dress" live at House of Blues
TV on the Radio had the unenviable job of following that, and they did not disappoint — though their set was a case of meeting expectations rather than exceeding them. They stuck mainly with the uptempo material from last year’s Dear Science, and 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain (both on Interscope) — “Red Dress,” “Crying,” “Shout Me Out,” “Dirtywhirl,” “Golden Age,” “Wolf Like Me” — largely driven by the energy of vocalist Tunde Adebimpe, who hopped across the stage on the balls of his feet and spastically waved his arms whenever he wasn’t obliged to operate his sampler.
The whole thing was like one big invitation for everyone to dance — too bad space was so tight on the floor that there wasn’t room for much more than pogoing with one arm sticking up. Looking down from the balcony, though, it made for a cool visual — I may have been hallucinating, but I swear at one point during “Wolf Like Me” a good 90 percent of the floor was jumping in sync (and with the beat, at that!). That’s not an easy thing to pull off with a young(ish) Boston crowd. Even slower songs, like “Province” and “Staring at the Sun,” inspired a vast sea of nodding heads.
For their final encore, TVOTR brought out Dirty Projectors (sans Longstreth, whose doctor has him preserving his much-abused larynx) to help provide additional percussion on “A Method.” It was a cool gesture, the musicians seemed genuinely chummy with each other, and the impromptu collaboration highlighted how oddly complementary the two bands are. Still, even after TVOTR’s long, satisfying set, it was disappointing to realize that the girls weren’t joining them to sing. That would have been brilliant — even at the risk of making the headliners’ relative shortcomings a touch too clear.