Before discussing the particulars of last night’s Destroyer show, please indulge me in this conspiracy theory: The New Pornographers was created as a way to slip Destroyer leader Dan Bejar’s songs into the subconscious of indie America. Bejar’s standard three-song contributions to New Porno records have seeped into the brains of the hipsters young and old -- and like fluoride in our drinking water, we are the better for it. The theory is admittedly a stretch, but how else to explain the near-capacity show at Blueberry Hill? (And how else to explain the sub-par, Bejar-less New Pornographers show at the Pageant on April 19?)
A more plausible explanation is that Destroyer’s lush, loaded and sprawling songbook has found a core audience that wants to wrestle with Bejar’s perplexing lyrics and fall under the sway of his sometimes-manic, sometimes-seductive voice. Such was the case last night, as the crowd followed the five-piece band through sharp turns and hazy jams. On record, Bejar is the sole owner and proprietor of his songs, but he takes a more relaxed approach on stage. Looking like a bedraggled Cat Stevens, the singer is not the imposing figure that his songs suggest; he appears sheepish and good-natured, a bit aloof and sleepy-eyed. He began the show with “Crystal Country,” a gem from 2002’s This Night, giving an exaggerated, Dylan-esque drawl to the first series of syllables. From there, the band moved into “Dark Leaves Form a Thread” from this year’s Trouble in Dreams, one of the more immediate songs on that slow-burning album.
The joke with Destroyer has always been about the disconnect between the band’s bellicose name and the soft-touch pop songs that populated early records like Streethawk: A Seduction. Well, that joke isn’t funny anymore: This version of Destroyer lives up to its name. Guitarist Nicholas Bragg spent the evening coaxing slightly overdriven guitar leads from his Fender Jaguar, establishing a tension line between Bejar’s lackadaisical rhythm guitar and Tim Loewen’s bobbing bass lines. But the evening belonged to drummer Fisher Rose, whose steel-eyed precision was somehow neither fluid nor stodgy – it was just simply a joy to watch.
Unlike most drummers, Rose doesn’t cross his arms when playing (meaning that his left hand plays the high-hat, which is fairly unorthodox). His arms appear to be perpetually cocked at a 90-degree angle, as if he strikes the drums and cymbals by rotating his shoulders instead of bending his elbows. Visually, it doesn’t make any sense, but his beats propelled the varied rhythms in songs like “Rubies” that are comprised of numerous sections and tempos.
Sadly, “Rubies” was the only selection off of 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies, the band’s breakthrough record. This was surprising considering that this incarnation of the band played on Rubies as well as Trouble in Dreams. The crowd didn’t seem to mind the absence of these songs, and many of the new tracks made more sense in the context of a live concert. “Foam Hands,” Trouble’s lead single, works from a slow build to a slightly-less-slow tempo, but the hypnotic repetition of the line “I didn’t know what time it was at all” gave the show its own moment of Zen. And that’s the magic of Dan Bejar’s lyrics: you can try all you want to parse his structure or footnote his references, but at their heart his songs exist, simply and unapologetically, without claiming to mean anything.
Set List (feel free to add corrections in the comments)
1. “Crystal Country” (This Night, 2002) 2. “Dark Leaves Form a Thread” (Trouble in Dreams, 2008) 3. ? (perhaps off of Your Blues?) 4. “Leopard of Honor” (Trouble in Dreams, 2008) 5. “Rubies” (Destroyer’s Rubies, 2006) 6. “Trembling Peacock “ (This Night, 2002) 7. “Rivers” (Trouble in Dreams, 2008) 8. “My Favorite Year” (Trouble in Dreams, 2008) 9. “Foam Hands” (Trouble in Dreams, 2008) 10. “Modern Painters” (This Night, 2002) 11. “Hey Snow White” (This Night, 2002) Encore
1. “Certain Things You Ought to Know” (with members of opener Andre Ethier’s band) (Your Blues, 2004) 2. “Self Portrait with Thing (Tonight is Not Your Night)” (This Night, 2002)