Cake Shop - East Village, NYC
15 September 2006
The Dirty Projectors are an ever changing/growing musical group that center around a smaller core group. The apparent leader of the group and front man, Dave Longstreth, the entire time during the performance attempting to communicate with other members of his group with bobbing his head [sometimes counting out a rhythm], persistent eye contact with group members and other gestural body moves in hopes to communicate. This group’s dynamic lends itself to the improvisational type music they perform. While on stage they formed a semi-circle around the drummer so that everyone had a clear view of each other member of the group.
Though, there is a frontman, their performance is transparent enough to realize that all the members are equally involved in the song making process. Within Western culture, there has been a continuing narrative associated with ‘artists’ and ‘authorship,’ more common in the visual arts and literature - the myth that one author is responsible for producing a work. When seeing a musical group perform, it is obvious that a ‘song’ or their ‘work’ could not be produced in the same way if it were just one person. Though this transparency of collaborative work is more obvious among bands and musical groups, there still seems to be the myth that the ‘frontman’ is responsible for the majority of the song writing and content. In an essay by Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson called Semiotics and Art History: A Discussion of Context and Senders, they critique the ‘author’ in art history. Bal points out Foucault’s “assessment of the relation between an individual and his or her proper name [being] quite different from the relation that obtains between a proper name and the function of authorship.” In this case, the work that is produced by the Dirty Projectors is not work produced by Dave Longstreth or Nat Baldwin, or by Dave Longstreth and Nat Baldwin, but by the Dirty Projectors. As Foucault would say, Dave Longstreth is in the world, but Dirty Projectors are in the ‘work’. Again, it seems that Dirty Projectors are aware of this and are working to deconstruct this narrative of ‘author’.
Beyond the stage presence of the four deep Dirty Projectors that evening, there was obviously a group presence in the crowd and away from the stage. The group tours often and, I assume, cannot afford to accommodate a large touring group, but this concert was performed in their “hometown.” There were sometimes members of the group within the audience that would join them on stage for a song, or would perform from the crowd, singing or clapping, etc. Other audience members would also temporarily join the group by singing out a lyric or making noise with what they had that added to the performance. This made everything much more exciting, no matter how good or bad the music was, there was a sense of being involved in the moment – a liminal space somewhere between process and performance. The conflation between performers and audience also made the experience and space seem constantly fluxing.
The members of the group, as well as the audience, were all very similar. The majority of the room was white males between the ages of 21 and 30, with a few outliers of older men. There were some women, but very few and only one group [out of the four total that played that evening] had a female member in their band. This type of crowd is very prominent at any type of independent music show. Is this the type of music that appeals to this demographic? Is it the means of promotion and typifying of this genre that mostly attracts young white males? I heard about the concert via word of mouth. After hearing about the show, I then verified the information on the band’s website. This type of “word-of-mouth” promotion is what keeps this type of music very insular. I don’t necessarily feel that this style of promotion causes such a niche audience, but it is merely a symptom of working outside the established paths of distributing information that is common among punk and other musical genres that uphold a D.I.Y. aesthetic and style of living. Unlike most independent musical groups, Dirty Projectors did not have any merchandise for sale. Though, the idea of band merchandise as regalia is very interesting to me. When a person decides to sport a one-inch button with a band’s name on it they are then becoming part of a group of fans, that is an extension of the musical