Review: Destroyer at the Bluebird, 6/9/12
DESTROYER @ BLUEBIRD THEATER| 6.09.12
See Also: Q&A with Dan Bejar of Destroyer.
When Dan Bejar ambled on to the stage, he scanned it left to right, shoved some stray strands of his fro back into place, clenched his eyes shut and wore a look of abstract passion. The Destroyer frontman kept this expression for the entirety of the show, sipping alcohol and wielding his curious, detached lyrics like insults as the stage's seven other musicians encased them in sound. And to be clear, not one of the eight members on stage was redundant -- or even less than impressively talented. It was brains versus brawn versus beauty: While Bejar made it through the songs, his band made them into songs.
Although the longest applause went to saxophone/flute player JP Carter, the spacey unmelody also features trumpet, guitar, two Mac laptops, several effects pedals and endless percussion, all of which is warped freely and often. On "Downtown," which channels an excessively urban Pet Shop Boys, the band muffled its efforts in slow, textured feedback before straightening out, returning to pop and closing it out with one of Carter's versatile sax solos.
When he's not propping himself on the mike stand like it's a cane, Bejar falls frequently to his knees, taking advantage of the band's noisiest moments to kneel, slap along on his thighs and stare at the inside of his eyelids as if overcome by his creation. It should be noted he also keeps a beer or two down there.
His peculiar delivery is as pointed and poignant as ever: With eighteen months to revisit most of these songs and years to consider others, Bejar still sounds like he's doing an impression of a crazy neighbor, like a mix between Lou Reed and Jon Lovitz's "Master Thespian" SNL character, rap-singing lyrics written in partnership with Jeff Mangum and the Zodiac killer. Live, it does not actually matter if anyone hears them. Bejar can't see you anyway, and he certainly has no intention of talking to you. It only matters that they, and their peculiar soundscape, exist.
For an hour and a half, the night ebbed across waves and waves of experiment as Bejar and company transitioned from '80s soundtrack pop to jazz poetry to freak-folk, across a small sliver of French chanson territory in powerful, sexy gushes of songs. Bejar's broken rhythm makes it tough to sing along, but the audience succeeded cutely just as "European Oils" mentions its "fucking maniac" character.
To hear a room of hundreds shout "fucking maniac" toward (okay, at) and with Dan Bejar is a powerful and kind of perfect thing. Throughout "A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point," Bejar turned temporarily but legitimately wild, loosening his already loose shirt buttons and flailing his arms during his bitter diatribe: "Hey, your friends are fucked, in so far as your friends are an ancient beast bronzed in tar!"
Positioned immediately after a half-concert crisis, then, "Suicide Demo For Kara Walker" was devastating, this heartbreaking battle between flute, piano and Bejar's muddled melody. As the audience danced quietly, twisting their wrists and swaying, Bejar took to his knees to wait for the ambience to subside.
"Kaputt," meanwhile, with its oft-referenced "chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world," appears to function equally well with marijuana smoked on the balconies of venues. From its somber build and artful synth outline, Destroyer grew into a hands-up, eyes-closed swell as Bejar victoriously shouted, "Tonight is not your night!" over peels of cacophony. The 2002 jam "Self Portrait With Thing" could have (and should have) closed down the night, but instead it shuttered the main set, allowing both crowd and octet time to cool before "Rubies" did the same for the encore.
It's tough to pinpoint where, but, sometime during the night, Destroyer transitioned from a band and a singer into a band with a lead singer, this fully-functional, painstakingly lovely, raucous project that exists because of this 39-year-old Canadian, not in spite of him.
Bejar doesn't have a lot to offer in the way of showmanship other than his presence and the accompanying haze of sound and sweat, but that is more than enough. You don't have to stand, stay sober or even speak to be a rockstar, but you do have to rock. And at some point, about a third of the way through its set, Destroyer did just that.
Page down for a Critic's Notebook and setlist.