June 17, 2016
That Was The Show That Was: Destroyer | Oval Space, London | 15 June
[PHOTO: Theo Gorst for Clicky Clicky] Vancouver indie rock luminaries Destroyer arrived in London Wednesday for a sold out, one-off show that is likely to be one of their last in support of 2015's excellent album Poison Season. Since the set's release, the consistently evolving now-octet has developed a live set it hardly seems possible to better. This reviewer would be tempted to say this is what 20 years of touring does, but only a foolish man would try to finitely categorize a project that is constantly shifting in form and style. Indeed, the Destroyer that ruled the stage at London's Oval Space this week is markedly different from its initial lo-fi iteration, which was responsible for 1996's We'll Build Them A Golden Bridge. Mercurial mastermind Dan Bejar writes lyrics awash in irony, contradiction and potent symbolism, and at turns Wednesday evening he appeared to embody all of these.
Like the songs themselves, Mr. Bejar's performance is both louche and pained. On "Song For America," a standout tune from Destroyer's tremendous 2011 collection Kaputt, the band locked into a gently propulsive groove as the fronter sang to the assembled Londoners, "I wrote a song for America, they told me it was clever, who knew." As he ended the line, Bejar swept his arm across the stage with the flare of a classic rock 'n' roll showman, a gesture further emphasizing the brilliant irony of the line. The theatrical turn was immediately juxtaposed by his next move: kneeling and obscuring himself from most of the crowd.
SImilarly, throughout the evening Bejar conducted himself as a self-conscious performer given to bouts of showmanship. The occasional extroversion was occasionally physical, but predominantly vocal, as he chose to pack the bulk of his theatrical impulses into his words. During "Savage Night At The Opera," he was almost spitting them out, while still savoring their grandiosity: "Let's face it, old swords like us have been born to die, it's not a war till someone loses an eye." When he led the crowd to the song's climax, singing "drop the loop and then go wild," the band took over as a buccaneering guitar solo accelerated above tranquil keys. Better still was Bejar's muttered "aw shit here comes the sun," during a thumping rendition of "Dream Lover." As the trumpet rose to crescendo upon crescendo, Bejar muttered and then yelped the line. His appearance was as de rigueur indie rocker –- skinny jeans and a loose fitted shirt –- but he sounded like a matinee idol worn down by serial nights of excess. When the band glided through "Girl On A Sling," it felt as though Bejar should have worn a bow tie and double-breasted blazer. The song's extended intro permitted the flautist and trumpeter to display magnificent musicianship, and their notes were looped and distorted through various effects creating a soundscape that mutated from ambient to glitchy while remaining captivating and bold.
The performance of "Chinatown" established a hazy, midnight ambience, a feeling accentuated by lazily strummed acoustic guitar and lonely-sounding saxophone. Elsewhere, the confession "listen, I've been drinking" during "Bay of Pigs (Detail)" felt illuminating; it fit perfectly with the band's smokey-bar-at-midnight aesthetic but also spoke to Bejar's stage persona: a reluctant performer propelled by occasional spells of Dutch courage. While the band often luxuriated in glorious melancholy, it also elevated moments to the point of celebration, exploding into joyous peaks with dueling trumpet and saxophone. Such was the case on first song of the encore, "Painter In Your Pocket," as well as "European Oils." These older songs fit seamlessly within a set that otherwise drew predominantly from Poison Season and Kaputt. Given Bejar's bent for experimentation, it will be fascinating to see where the band's next album takes them. Wherever that may be, assuredly it will only add the mystique the songwriter has created for himself both on record and on stage. -- Theo Gorst
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