Destroyer and its opener, the War On Drugs, were a startling contrast. Destroyer is a band that took the smooth sounds of ’70s FM and made them thrilling. The War On Drugs was mostly harmless, playing innocuous guitar-pop over vocals that sounded like they were singing meaningful, important lyrics—you know the delivery. The trouble was the guitarist/singer of the latter could not articulate his words clearly enough to hear his turns of phrase, brilliant as they may have been. At least he was a skilled guitarist, soloing in nearly every song quite adeptly
The War On Drugs’ guitarist/singer was a better guitarist than he was a singer and a better singer than he was a banterer—he cycled between “ready for (insert Destroyer member),” “This song goes out to (insert irrelevant random person in crowd),” and “This song is called (insert generic name).” The applause lines drew diminishing returns; when he inserted a “ready for Dan Bee-jar,” it elicited an impolite amount of open laughter—but seriously, you’re in a packed room of Destroyer fans. At least know how to pronounce Dan Bejar’s name.
But the reason Webster Hall was packed was to see Dan “Bee-Jar,” he of the oblique storytelling that makes emotional, rather than literal, sense. Bejar came with a seven-person band, complete with a saxophone and a trumpet, which was used in conjunction with effects pedals to make crazy sounds that nobody would have thought could come out of a trumpet. That was the most unorthodox instrument that night, unless you count Bejar using his position as frontman to be the disaffected deconstructionist, spending most of his time kneeling on the ground, sipping beers and liquor, staring randomly into space when he didn’t have his eyes closed. He placed his microphone stand at waist level so he could lean on it while singing. It was oddly endearing, though, making the occasional smiles (mostly directed at the trumpeter’s sonic experiments) and the few times he did acknowledge the packed crowd all the more rewarding.
Destroyer played the majority of its super-awesome new album, Kaputt, capping off with a rendition of “Bay Of Pigs” that featured Bejar pulling out a lyric sheet. I have to believe that taking out the lyric sheet(s, as he did it once more during the set) was for dramatic effect than anything else, just like the kneeling and the staring and the schooled disaffect. I’m not implying Bejar is a phony—Destroyer’s sizable fanbase would surely annihilate me were I to suggest that. It’s more like Bejar interacts with his art through a drunken haze, which plays perfectly with the music. He writes songs like he acts—confidently exhausted, as if he knows he can release whatever is trying to get out without interference by way of moving or smiling.
It wouldn’t have worked without Destroyer’s formidable band, the mellow feel of the keys and sax inter-playing with the dissonance of the electric guitars and the trumpet so that when Bejar sang that accelerating line in the middle of “Downtown,” the band caught up with him. The saxophone took a solo at every song, which should have sounded cheesy, the memories of Michael McDonald and the aberration of ’70s yacht rock sadly linked with the instrument. But maybe it was the lighting, or the talent of the members, or the difficult catchiness of the music, or maybe it was just Bejar’s disaffect. There was nothing hackneyed about Destroyer, as Dan Bejar makes even the cheesiest musical idea ever conceived—the smooth saxophone solo—sound cool.