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» Blog Archive » Don Henley is a Visionary?

Don Henley is a Visionary?

dirty_projectors-walt_disney_concert_hall15-608x404The last time the Dirty Projectors played in Los Angeles was on Halloween at the Jensen Recreation Center in Echo Park, where frontman David Longstreth wore a ten-gallon foam cowboy hat and his upside-down guitar with the confidence of a newly minted visionary. Fans of the Projectors’ odd, brilliant, shimmering music had been waiting for the band to play at Disney Hall since November, anticipating their breakout hit, 2009’s Bitte Orca, amplified by a lush string section.

But on Saturday night, Longstreth looked small and befuddled on the Disney Hall stage, fiddling with the tuning of his guitars for a half an hour during intermission. Longstreth is 28, with the refractory brain of a brilliant twelve-year-old with attention deficit disorder and the composing abilities of Mozart on mushrooms in Africa. After Saturday night, the audience learned his musical influences include Ligeti, Wagner, Ravel, and Don Henley.

Don Henley might seem like an odd choice. The program notes include an earnest letter Longstreth sent Henley in 2005, accompanying a free copy of The Getty Address, Longstreth’s 2005 opera about materialism, the homogenization of FM radio, and Sacagewea, or something like that. “I have included a copy of it here for you,” Longstreth wrote to Henley. “The album 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.” Clearly, this makes sense to only one person: Longstreth himself.

The program was divided into three parts: the Philharmonic playing alone, the Projectors playing The Getty Address along with the ensemble Alarm Will Sound, and the Projectors playing alone. The program began with selections Longstreth hand-picked for the Philharmonic. Highlights included Ligeti’s Etude No. 13, played by gray-haired John Orge, who lingered on the piano keys after the last high notes for a long, indulgent silence, and Ravel’s beautifully orchestrated Mother Goose Suite. After a long intermission, the Projectors emerged, wearing color-coordinated hooded jackets, to play The Getty Address in its entirety. And here is where the problems began.

dirty_projectors-walt_disney_concert_hall32-608x404Truthfully, the opera is an indulgent college project from a very, very talented student, with glimpses of the Projectors’ current, much more successful musical incarnation nestled in like raisins studded into a very wobbly gray oatmeal. In the first song (er, movement), “I Sit on the Ridge at Dusk,” the beat kicked in, and the Projectorettes (Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle, and Angel Deradoorian) wailed “got a world of trouble on my mind,” in an indistinct language, moving very slightly from side to side, like shy sirens. But momentum was lost on the second song, and the album is so complex, the time signatures so twisted, it seemed that no amount of practice could have nailed it down. It didn’t help that Alarm Will Sound had some spotty synchronicity and tuning moments. The long, drifting passages on “But in the Headlights” and “Gilt Gold Scabs” sounded misguided and naked, as though a player were missing. Some members played on wine bottles, and a base flute was involved, as well as lots of gratuitous hand-clapping, which sounded messy at times, perhaps on purpose. Many in the audience began to get restless, but the ensemble soldiered on to no avail.

After the opera finally ended, the Projectors (minus their drummer) took the stage for three songs: a very slow cover of Dylan’sI Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” as well as their own “Temecula Sunrise” and “Cannibal Resource” from Bitte Orca. They sounded good, and Longstreth’s singing sounded much more comfortable, but the band would have sounded much better with a whole orchestra backing them up. None of the women got to sing lead on any song, though Angel Deradoorian singing “Two Doves” would have sounded lovely in this acoustic setting.

All in all, the event demonstrated what the Projectors are capable of musically. It also showed that some misguided musical experiments are better laid to rest, no matter how brilliant their 23-year-old composer may be. As the Eagles said, “And I don’t want to hear any more/ No, no, baby/ I don’t want to hear any more.” Here’s hoping the Projectors stick to Bitte Orca from now on.

By Cassandra McGrath of CWG Magazine

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is located at 111 South Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles.  For more information on upcoming shows, please call (213) 972-7211, or visit www.laphil.com.

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