Destroyer’s sold out show at San Francisco’s Independent would seem a tad implausible about three years ago. With Daniel Bejar’s continual popularity as the ballast to The New Pornographers’ pop frolics he’s cultivated quite an underground following though. Many fans obsess over his cryptic lyrics – a venture that spawned the creation of a series of Wikipedia entries dedicated to just that. On Thursday night Bejar was in his usual airs – utterly drunk and turning the audience’s expectations on their heads. Bejar’s signature bow after each song brought a familiar grin to my face.
After recurring criticisms of his wobbly stage presence, Bejar’s approach seemed like a final kiss-off to any straggling naysayer during the final leg of the Trouble in Dreams U.S. tour. In fact, during the encore he leaned into the mic with glassy eyes and quipped, “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that my mom is not in the audience tonight.” Despite his backup band (the same one from the critical smash, Destroyer’s Rubies) being befuddled by his inebriated stage banter when Bejar decided to shut up and rock his band hardly failed to impress. Their ad hoc set list was heavy on tracks from current baroque rock stunner, Trouble in Dreams and Bejar’s personal favorite-cum-critical polarizer, This Night.
Los Angeles slacker punks, headed by the greasy haired would-be comedian, Devon Williams, got the audience bopping to their harmless mix of urban sheen and grunge pop. The infusion of Laena Myers-Ionita’s effervescent violin weaved a bittersweet thread through Williams’ comprised of songs off the group’s debut album, Carefree. Williams introduced the band and album by noting the album’s title also goes by ‘Career-Free.’ Williams’ self-deprecation and stage banter jokes about San Francisco’s summer of love added oodles of levity to a set that had no shortage. Propulsive and reckless songs like ‘Elevator’ and ‘A Truce’ paved the trio as hopeful ingénues but not much more.
Bejar and his quartet of hired guns slogged through a protracted thirteen-song set that at its worst was slightly embarrassing and at its best, a truly transcendent rock-filled night. On Bejar’s extensive discography he lords over every melodic instance or chaotic twist. Tonight he let his band take the reins of his brazen oeuvres.
In Bejar’s heavy-eyed stupor he seemed to be a little detached from his labyrinthinian pop-art but when he finally decided to pick a song for his band he hardly failed to impress. They started the night with ‘Crystal Country,’ a 1970s inspired nugget from 2002’s This Night. From there, the band moved into a sprightly version of ‘Dark Leaves Form a Thread’ awash in synthesizer and piano.
Guitarist Nicholas Bragg spent the evening wheedling e-bowed guitar leads from his Fender Jaguar on incensed tempo of songs like ‘Rubies.’ He established an alluring middle ground between Bejar’s laissez-faire rhythm guitar and Tim Loewen’s trotting bass lines. Drummer Fisher Rose pounded his drum kit like Donkey Kong might if he was a drummer. Ted Bois’ sprite keyboard and synthesizer flourishes filled in the gaps. During Bejar’s awkward ramblings Bois seemed a little off-put and during one long pause between songs as Bejar killed yet another beer, the flustered keyboardist assured the audience that Bejar would get a stern reprimand the next day. He seemed to keep his arms at a precise 90-degree angle even during manic songs like ‘The State.’ It was a stentorian achievement that you couldn’t help but smile at with each crushing hi-hat.
Like a microcosm of Bejar’s own songwriting the concert had its own share of cheerless pitfalls (limp-wristed versions of ‘Foam Hands’ and ‘Hey Snow White’) and buoyant experiments (the dub-infused ‘My Favorite Year’ and hazy synth lines of ‘Certain Things You Ought To Know’). Throughout the rock dins and hushed interludes Bejar’s lyrics shone through as the continuing incendiary puzzle they present themselves as off or onstage. Take a drunken bow Bejar. You’ve earned it.
1) Crystal Country (This Night)
2) Dark Leaves Form A Thread (Trouble in Dreams)
3) Rubies (Destroyer’s Rubies)
4) Leopard of Honor (Trouble in Dreams)
5) Foam Hands (Trouble in Dreams)
6) This Night (This Night)
7) Leopard of Honor (Trouble in Dreams)
8) Trembling Peacock (This Night)
9) My Favorite Year (Trouble in Dreams)
10) The State (Trouble in Dreams)
11) Hey Snow White (This Night)
12) Certain Things You Ought to Know (with violinist Laena Myers-Ionita from Devon Williams’ band) (Your Blues)
13) Modern Painters (This Night)