“Bitte Orca,” widely acclaimed as one of last year’s exceptional albums, secured a place for the Dirty Projectors on the broad indie rock landscape, upping the profile of prolific composer David Longstreth to the point that his earlier work — specifically 2005’s “The Getty Address” — has received high-profile re-examination in New York and Los Angeles concert halls. Performed with the 14-piece chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound, the hourlong “Getty Address” played as collection of hits-n-bits from 20th century composers duct-taped to rock drumming and a chamber opera, a peek at a formidable artist at a formative stage not inclined to reveal his rock roots.
Many of the compositional elements in “Getty Address” exist in the songs of “Bitte Orca,” particularly the shifting of musical patterns and textures, the heavy use of percussion and the choral vocals.
“Getty” stands now as a blueprint, a composer trying his hand employing techniques one by one rather than fusing them together as his later works show him capable of doping. “Orca’s” maturity — and this was decidedly exposed in the encore or more recent songs and Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” — is revealed in Longstreth’s ability to now layer elements, employ fugues and temper, even sweeten, his vocals.
Longstreth, whose recording career dates back only eight years, has described “The Getty Address” as an adolescent attempt to make sense of the universe. Aztec mythology and the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., are used to examine the raping of the environment; his lead character, based on Cortes and James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, is named Don Henley. In a voice drenched in naivete and earnestness, Longstreth voices the Henley character against wordless vocals, through a blues stomp, a combination of percussion and a Mancini-esque trombone part, hand clapping, a film noir score and a tip of the cap to Philip Glass. As a story it’s a bit less than convincing; hearing in full a 5-year-old conceptual piece limns Longstreth’s nonrock roots that make him a rare commodity in the modern rock world.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic opened the evening with four pieces — two short piano works by Ligeti, Prelude to Act III from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” — that connect with Longstreth’s classical tastes and influences. It worked well: The darkness of “Tristan” and the rambunctious fisticuffs of Ligeti’s Etude No. 13 spill throughout “Getty”; the Ravel was apparent in the construction of “D. Henley’s Dream,” a heavenly piece that the Dirty Projectors would be wise to keep in their set.
The Dirty Projectors return to Southern California for the Coachella Arts & Music Festival in April.