With notable albums in three different decades, Destroyer are finally a musical act that someone can comfortably talk about without mentioning The New Pornographers, the band for which songwriter Dan Bejar has long been primarily associated. Playing to a nearly full crowd at Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater, Bejar and his eight-piece band showed why this is not just because of the critical success of last year’s album Kaputt; Destroyer’s back catalog has aged particularly well, becoming bona fide singalongs. This is presented in what at times might be considered a standoffish manner, but for fans this only adds to Destroyer’s charm. The amount of four-eyed fans in the audience points toward the bookish quality of the music, and for these fans, playing tightly and with sincerity is much more important than punk jumps or, you know, eye contact. To love Destroyer is to love Dan Bejar for who he is, and an artist that sticks to his guns above all things is something to be both respected and praised.
Fitting nicely with the intellectual vibe of the evening was Sandro Perri, announcing that it was the first time that he and his band had played Los Angeles and receiving a response of “welcome to hell!” Now, Perri has been championed by BPM’er Will Ryan since last year, but still this was my first time listening to the artist. Frankly, I was blown away. Descriptions I have heard of Perri do not do justice to the creative songwriting that he brings to the table, at times sounding like Andrew Bird in both his vocals and his loose song structure. But, everything clicks for Perri, who played his recent album Impossible Spaces in its entirety. Some songs are brief and direct, such as the title track, while others drift to glorious crescendos spaced over lengthy jams, like the close “The Wolfman.” Still, I come back to the Andrew Bird comparison and can’t help but think that this is the music that Bird fans wish he was making at this point in his career. Anyone who has been mildly disappointed by the last couple Andrew Bird albums should really do themselves a service and check out Sandro Perri. He surely made a fan of me over forty minutes on Wednesday night.
For a man whose songs burst at the seems with lyrical weight, Dan Bejar has little to say to his audience while performing. In fact, when Bejar announced that the previous song had been titled “Chinatown,” it evoked laughter from the audience as they noted that he used one of his rare sentences to point out the most obvious fact of the night. And, to evoke a cliche, Destroyer’s songs speak for themselves. At times, they even allow the audience to speak for them. During standout (and apparent fan favorite) “European Oils,” nearly everyone in attendance shouted along at the climactic line “the fucking maniac.”
Many reports from Destroyer’s previous tour complained that Bejar read his lyrics from a notebook, so I am happy to inform that Bejar seems to have his songs memorized now. Still, he is not without his quirks. He leaves his mic stand about waste high, and between songs and verses he takes to one knee to listen to the background music while closing his eyes, almost hiding from the glare of the audience that might expect him to do something besides recite his words. But, Bejar would rather slurp his beer and stay detached, though he still offered a very formal bow at the conclusion of each song.
And, sure, you can see where someone might fault Destroyer for Bejar being a weird guy. But, we wouldn’t like Destroyer this much if Dan Bejar wasn’t such a weird guy. His fish-out-of-water persona that fuels his music has slowly built a rabid following over the years, the type of young people who sing along loudly to songs as fundamentally different as “English Music” and “Downtown.” From album to album, the only real constant in Destroyer’s music is the personality and words of Dan Bejar. Sometimes he has struck a chord in the music community and at times he has lingered below the surface. But, you get the impression that audience size and album sales are not something that Bejar thinks of much. And, though he may not pander to his audience, he surely respects them, as can be seen in a setlist that spans the entire Destroyer catalog. I mean, I was able to hear “Rubies” performed live by Destroyer, and I can now die a happy man.
Savage Night at the Opera
Libby’s First Sunrise
Destroyer’s the Temple
Bay of Pigs