all words: Robb Scott
all photos: Stephanie Breijo
Alex Hungtai’s project Dirty Beaches is not your typical band… for starters, he’s a one-man act and uses very little lyrics. As unorthodox a performer I imagined him to be, his live-set at DC-9 was even further away from what I expected.
Only his second time headlining in DC, Dirty Beaches kept a certain cool about him while he was joined on stage by two backing musicians (for touring purposes only mind you). He is a man that loves his craft, and is genuinely proud of what he produces—instead of the usual play through of whatever album is being promoted, he instead opted to just jam out to his new, unreleased, still in production material. If his latest release Bad Lands was any indication to how cinematic this guy’s sound is, his newer material drives the point home, tucks it into bed, and kisses it goodnight.
Each song seemed to tell a story in and of itself, almost forcing us as an audience to just let go, close our eyes, and watch the mind movies Dirty Beaches is beyond enthusiastic to create. I saw myself in a dusty Tijuana bar at one point, on an old-western train another, then in an old deserted chapel. What makes his music so unique, even more than the scenarios, is that he exists in a space of chaos within rhythm. Very much like what one would experience at Drum Circle in Meridian Hill Park, instruments and sounds are constantly added and removed to create a sort of magical dissonance.
What struck me most about Hungtai’s stage presence, which is probably to be expected, with his rejection of traditional song structure (verses, choruses, etc) he comes off resembling the drunk guy on karaoke. His wailing, mini fits of rage, and religious call to the altar (i kid you not, it felt like a revival or something — “…don’t let the devil get you!!!”) all would have looked very ridiculous had it not been intentional. The Elvis comparisons are hard not to make here, he moves much like the guy, sounds a lot like the guy, and has the same greaser appeal; only Dirty Beaches is the whiskey’d up equivalent of a sober Elvis.
Of the songs we would know, he played “Lone Runner,” which appeared on Pitchfork’s website, and “Lord Knows Best,” which appears on Bad Lands. The latter he sang as an encore along with a cover of Portland’s Rex Marshall, who goes by the stage name Mattress (also a one-man band). The song, “El Dorado,” was very much in line with the music Dirty Beaches has nested himself in. He said in our interview with him he sees performing as providing a service, and without a doubt he did just that… I left feeling fulfilled. Check out his music as it is available on iTunes and Spotify (i.e. there’s no reason why you should have Dirty Beaches on your iTunes, iPod, whatever else people are using these days).