Pitchfork Day 1: Dirty Projectors and Feist

July 13, 2012

The Dirty Projectors' Pitchfork appearance was perfectly timed. Their new album was released on Tuesday and had been streaming for about a month. Unsurprisingly the website gave Swing Lo Magellan an 8.8 and named it "Best New Music."

The band has a knack for creating catnip for music critics with their upside down approach to a wide variety of musical traditions. Some hear hints of doo-wop combined with African guitar. Others pick up on R&B mixed with art rock. But to some listeners it's nothing more than complexity for complexity's sake.

To those who, like me, don't see the point of the digressions in some Projectors songs, I must say, they make more sense live. On a car stereo, the abrupt shift in "Offspring Are Blank" is a reason to skip to another track, but in concert it's a suckerpunch, an unexpected turn on a roller coaster. And with Dave Longstreth and Amber Coffman guiding you with such precise, unnatural singing it seems just fine to hand over the reins to them.

With Feist I had the opposite concern. Would her set be lively enough to keep me from falling asleep? With each album she's moved further from the breezy pop that she does best into more predictable territory.

I was pleasantly surprised when she took the stage at Pitchfork with the vocal group Mountain Man backing her up. The group performed in our studios a while back and they have a knack for making "conventional" music interesting.

I can't say if it was the women of Mountain Man or not, but something made Feist move a bit outside the comfort zone she inhabits on record nowadays. It could have been her headlining slot. The crowd was warmed up and expecting a big show, so she played her songs a little bit harder, louder and maybe a touch faster. Some songs she completely reinvented like "Mushaboom," which turned a bit spooky and minor-keyed. Even though she changed the hook, the crowd was loving it- even singing along to the new melody.

A late set version of "A Commotion" proved popular as well. Eventually she was forced to return to stage for an encore and most of the crowd was still hanging around, proving the naysayers like me wrong.