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Concert Review: Dirty Projectors and Lucky Dragons, Whitney Museum, 7/20/2007 – Inspired Appropriation

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To appropriate something involves taking possession of it. In the visual arts, the term appropriation often refers to the use of borrowed elements in the creation of new work.

The Dirty Projectors new release Rise Above, due out in September, is a conceptual tribute and not a cover release. The Rise Above tour presents interpreted compositions stimulated by memory of the band Black Flag's influential 1981 album Damaged. Remembering this record from his teenage years, Dave Longstreth's composed Rise Above by accessing his subconscious using a technique called automatic writing that was embraced by the Surrealists. They used it to expand their creative possibilities.

Lucky Dragons AKA Luke Fishbeck is a digital music composer, who applies a distinctive homage to the category of happening and performance art, utilizing digital music, and video installation. Within the realm of digital music composition he has appropriately titled his latest recording Windows. Luke Fishbeck music is created with instruments, voices, and sound discoveries that are transposed digitally. His self awareness has enabled him to be an open receptor to the world around him, guiding his music composition to reflect inference and sound visuals.Dirty Projectors and Lucky Dragons at the Whitney Museum
It was very fitting to see Lucky Dragons in a museum setting. The focus of his performance is to create a dialogue with the audience that fluctuates between voyeurism and direct participation. He set up a large screen on the side of the stage, and on the floor a laptop connected to audio extensions that lengthen outward into the space. Much like an extension cord or that of an octopus with musical tentacles, these receptors convert sound through touch and movement. The screen displayed portrait images whose lips opened to receive and release animated color, nature patterns that formed connective metaphors, and geometric sequencing like a universal code all synchronized with the music.

Luke is a very tall and striking individual. He started on the floor, sitting on his knees hovering over one of the receptors passing the signals of his body movements to alter the sound frequencies. We watched him personally and physically submit to becoming an integral part of the sound. Experiencing the music through him is the ultimate form of conduction. The set continued and his body contortions became convoluted as he ran microphone wire up, around, under his torso, through his legs, and then up to his mouth. Never looking up at the audience, he unabashedly was consumed in his personal ecstasies. I was a willing voyeur.

Suddenly the interaction with the audience began in a strange and unsettling way. He crawled and undulated forward to various people in the crowd still in his private cocoon rocking and darting blindly forward. Then he connected and unwound the colorful wires that were vibration sensitive and brought various audience members to touch the receptors and collaborate in creating a new music dynamic. The unexpected nature of participation is what informs the music at that point.

Lucky Dragon uses contemporary technologies that are generally removed from human contact to awaken pathways that touch the spirit through sound. If you're daring you will stay. If you're open to new ideas, you will be inspired. I was.

Dirty Projectors and Lucky Dragons at the Whitney Museum
The Dirty Projectors played an eight-song set and one encore featuring five songs from Rise Above and three songs from their release New Attitude. The four member outfit are Dave Longsteth the lead guitarist, vocalist, and musical director; Amber Coffman vocals and guitar; Angel Deradoorian vocals and bass; and Brian Mcomber on drums.

The dynamic sound that this group creates is mainly the result of original and daring harmonies mixed with extraordinary guitar patterns and vigorous drumming. The electric guitar flutters with atypical leads and is coordinated with one note picking of the alternate guitar. Dave Longsteth's voice reminds me of Prince and has the range of Rufus Wainwright. Sometimes it borders on soulful pop affectations and that alone could be cheesy, but mixed with the other vocals it becomes original. Even without the aid of chord progression, the vocals remain on target. Their astute registers and informed pitch explore melody without boundaries, creating harmonic levels that astound.

Opening with "Fucked for life," Dave Lonsteth's rolling soulful singing is mixed beautifully with the strong harmonies of the female members. His guitar breakouts were especially effective during "New New Attitude" where the wild man came out and the three part blending of harmonies wowed. In the song "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie," the vocalists created a round and the effect sounded like a modern version of yodeling with each member taking on different measurements and blending them strongly to resonate. They ended the set with "Police Story" and the encore "Depression." Aside from the utter beauty of the sound the set was energetic and exciting. Dave Longsteth and drummer Brian Mcomber really broke sweat while the women presented a calm focus necessary for acute harmonies.

These two music groups share sensibilities and are daring and open to the possibilities of moving music composition forward. There is no greater place to see them do this then in a contemporary art institution that prides itself on being the barometer of cutting edge direction in the visual arts.

Listen to Lucky Dragons' "Hello New Friend"
Listen to the Dirty Projectors' "New New Attitude" live from the Day Trotter Sessions

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