The stage was moved from the larger dining room to the more intimate right-hand lobby, which, with its high ceilings and windows at the back, framed this low-key concert beautifully. First up was the band No Kids, although unfortunately when they began to play only about ten people were in the audience. True to their name, this trio of musicians did not seem like kids, and played in a mature and laid-back style. They were very cute, though. The male lead singer played a bright-red keyboard and sang—as a fellow concertgoer astutely observed—like a female R&B vocalist. He wore large (one might even say “hipster-cool”) glasses, and tended to look straight into the audience as he sang, an unusual tactic for hipsters. The second keyboardist, a woman, wore a bright red dress and enjoyed bouncing up and down while she played, keeping her gaze to herself, and looking entirely self-satisfied. Their music was distinctly tonal, with few ventures into avant-garde harmonies and no real structural climaxes. At moments it even sounded like the cha-cha-cha. Their best song was, as the singer said, “about going to this school [Princeton], but from the perspective of a small Japanese woman.” Its pentatonic-scale harmonies were rather “Asian-clichéd,” but the effect was serene. The singer announced another song she claimed was “actually about this school,” but it was hard to understand the words.
Then the Dirty Projectors took the stage—or rather, the Dirty Projector, since the two female vocalists had the flu. Just Dave Longstreth, a Yale dropout and certified musical visionary, had made the drive from Ohio. By this hour (around 1:30 AM) the club was crowded, however, and suddenly the stage placement seemed wrong—the whole scene was too loud. Usually the concert watchers keep to themselves in the dining room, but Saturday night the noise of students wandering around the Terrace lobby resonated onto the stage, so that one man with an electric guitar could barely compete with the swell. But, as an intimate group of about twenty huddled around him, he stepped in front of the microphone and played his songs as if no one else were there. It was a struggle to hear his voice, but the real highlight was his guitar. Longstreth had no fear of the instrument as he pushed the capo higher and higher, twiddling his fingers across the neck and revealing cool, strange harmonies seemingly played out of any time signature under his long vocal lines. Such is the distinctive sound of the Dirty Projectors, emphasized even more by the absence of drums and back-up vocals. At times I wished he had stepped in front of the mic again, but he was really only playing for those who were listening, and the quietness made you listen intently. After the final song, in which his voice crooned louder than before, Longstreth said he’d “never played a show like this before.” The audience had never seen one, either.