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The Dirty Projectors
Allen Room, Lincoln Center
Friday, February 19
The Allen Room’s dazzling floor-to-ceiling glass vista is guaranteed to metaphorically enhance whatever you happen to hear there. Case in point: On Friday night those double layered panels refracted 59th Street into a boggling twilight boogie-woogie of car headlights ascending the face of nearby skyscrapers. It was an image perfectly suited to the cubist strategies employed in Dirty Projectors’ The Getty Address, which the sextet performed in collaboration with the fourteen-piece Alarm Will Sound Ensemble as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series (sponsored by Pfizer). Movin’ on up, indeed.
Released in 2005 to a collective “Huh?”, singer-guitarist-composer David Longstreth’s self-described “epic glitch-opera” is a beguilingly ambitious pastiche of Western, Eastern, and African styles. A synopsis and lyrics awaited us on our chairs, as did a copy of Longstreth’s neatly typed letter to the Eagles’ Don Henley, whose “public persona” inspired the opera – although “the character is definitely not you.” The Getty Address, Longstreth writes, ” examines the question of what is wilderness in a world completely circumscribed by highways, once Manifest Destiny has no place to go – but in the end it is a love story.” One suspects that Mr. Henley declined to reply.
Conducted by Alan Pierson, The Getty Address unwound over an hour in flirtatious fits and starts, a steady pastiche of quick musical edits alluding to, more than relating, Don Henley’s truckin’ journey into the American wilderness in search of Love. (Meanwhile, in the heart of Mexico…oh, never mind.) A tour guide named Sacagawea Petrillo steals his heart at Gettysburg, and we’re suddenly in a tragically ironic George Saunders story. Longstreth’s music bobs and weaves in a paradoxically static procession of disparate styles that somehow hang together as a beautiful play of surfaces. Shallow-groove Africanisms abounded in Longstreth’s kora-inspired acoustic guitar riffs and the Pygmy hocketing of Dirty Projectors’ three female singers (adorned in red, yellow, and blue riding hoods, respectively). Next week Dirty Projectors will perform The Getty Address in Los Angeles following works by Philip Glass and Maurice Ravel, a couple of crucial touchstones for Longstreth’s opera–to which you might also add Stravinsky, Jules Massenet, Richard Strauss (whose “Blue Danube” simmers below the album’s ecstatic centerpiece, “Jolly Jolly Ego”), and maybe even Pierre Boulez in those lovely marimba lines.
“I kept waiting for Chuck Norris to appear,” quipped Longstreth when most of the group reappeared to play four songs from the Projectors’ seemingly more accessible Bitte Orca. (And I kept waiting for David Byrne – but that action figure didn’t show up outside the program notes.) Turns out that Bitte Orca subtly echoes The Getty Address‘s claustrophobic notion of a nation that’s run out of both time and space, and whose horizon, as he sings in “Temecula Sunrise,” lies “flat and motionless/ Like the EKG of a dying woman.” Not in the shadow of this skyline, sir.