View a slideshow of photos from Destroyer at the Luminary Center for the Arts
Last night at the Luminary Center for the Arts, a full but not overcrowded room watched the eight-member band cruise through an eleven-song set, starting in "Chinatown" and ending in the "Bay of Pigs." The focus of the night was, naturally, material from the new album Kaputt -- an uneven record of Bryan Ferry-esque dance music and sometimes muzak - and a handful of selections from Trouble in Dreams, Destroyer's Rubies and Your Blues. The band sounded engaged in the jamming, its leader his usual non-loquacious self, and the fuzzy-noise-meets-moogy-loops intros and outros bookended sprawling, horn-warmed grooves. I counted nine kids dancing. One of them was me.
Opening was the War on Drugs, a neo-psych band from Philly, led by Adam Granduciel, whose Dylan studies have paid off. I wasn't expecting to hear the sound of actual guitars - phase shifter and sundry effects were set to stun -- but was pleased to hear just that in the 12-string acoustic, complementing the drummers' clipped headphone beats. Starting just before 8 p.m., the band whipped through a melody-rich set, with highlights including "Buenos Aires Beach" and "Coming Through," as well as the excellent closer "Arms Like Boulders," extended with the hooks in the drums, like a haunted and cascading reworking of James' "Laid."
This was my first show at the Luminary, a big gallery space converted to a music room, and it was a pleasant one. Beer and wine prices are beyond reasonable, the staff is sweet, and the indie kids in attendance are mostly attentive to the show rather than their iPhones. If the stage could use another six inches in height, the sound was excellent, and the headliner's vocals, in particular, cut through the mix.
Taking the stage at just before 9:30 p.m., Bejar held an SM-57 instrument mic like a $50 Havana puro. Last night he looked like a semi-retired Cuban revolutionary, his beard creeping up his cheeks towards his drowsy eyes, his hair three spliffs shy of dreadlocks. He's wearing, of course, the same plaid button-down shirt he woke up in five days ago.
Starting with "Chinatown," the catchiest and most cohesive song from Kaputt, the band set a languorous, ambling mood, with trumpet and saxophone heralding the warnings and encounters along the stoned, neon streets of Bejar's mind. The singer clapped a tambourine and crouched down through instrumental breaks, not to hide, but to give the band its due. He smiles now and then, as the muses of his songs, Christine White and Nancy and Mary Jane from down the lane, come and go and linger to remind him that there's always more poetry in the "shithouse of the world.""Blue Eyes" was even stronger, with a sax solo suggesting both smooth jazz and not smooth jazz. For a vaunted lyricist, Bejar has always been extremely, obsessively interest in the music of his songs, the melodies and the arrangements, and even when they border on the David Sanborn-esque, they are not improvised in cloying fashion. The bassist carried the melody of "It's Gonna Take an Airplane" with the circular riff of "All Along the Watchtower" - Bejar's intertextuality only starts with the lyrics - and gave "Downtown" the kind of Vegas-made-sublime feel that Dylan wanted but never found in the late '70s.
What exactly Dan Bejar wants as a performer is open to every manner of interpretation - like Dylan, he almost always seems completed but uneasy on stage, trying to find a way to be just one necessary voice among other necessary voices - and it's always thorny writing about a Destroyer show, not least because every music writer in town is on the guest list. One is never as witty as Bejar, but one can be less clever. The density of songs such as "My Favorite Year" and "3000 Flowers" unfold in the moment, even when prompted by a charming and crumpled lyric sheet. The tense, unpredictable rhymes leave you far behind the rhymer. You're left to focus on the sound, which is as it should be. Principal set closer "Song For America" had an ache in its core, as whale and seagull cries from a Powerbook echoed around the singer. The encore, "Bay of Pigs," increased the synth-washes and MIDI test patterns, but built to a dreamy and grand crescendo, as Christine removed her spurs, and the singer, who says he's "seen it all," came to rest on a final word, with the blinding glitter of Vegas already receding: "Cloud."
It's Gonna Take an Airplane
My Favorite Year
Painter in Your Pocket
Suicide Demo for Kara Walker
Song For America
Bay of Pigs