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Destroyer @ The Back Room at Colectivo

Nov. 1, 2016

Nov. 2, 2016
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Photo credit: Ben Wick

It was in much the same spirit that Don Quixote donned knight’s gear after reading too many chivalric romances that Dan Bejar, his head filled with David Bowie and Lou Reed, became Destroyer, the vaguely defined alter ego he casts himself as on his records. It’s not that Bejar needs a gimmick to write a good song—he’s one of the sharpest lyricists of his generation, a genuine savant—but there’s something vaguely fantastical about his best work, which set his sly insights on art and romance against a backdrop of not only poets and rock ’n’ rollers but also kings, steeds and assassins, in adventures pitched somewhere between Renaissance England and 1970s New York. Without overselling the gimmick, or even conceding it is a gimmick, he juxtaposes the excitement of his heightened prose against the disappointing ordinariness of the real world.

That contrast was on full display Tuesday night, where Bejar performed his fanciful songs at the most pedestrian of settings, the backroom of a coffee shop, as part of a rare solo tour. On Destroyer’s heavily stylized records, Bejar supports his vision with aesthetic extremes—the rippling glam guitars of 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies, the schmaltzy soft-rock of 2011’s Kaputt, the garish MIDI synths of 2004’s Your Blues—but here it was just the basics: Bejar, his guitar and his Ziggy Stardust sneer. In keeping with his private image, he limited his stage banter to a few polite comments, addressing the crowd just enough so it didn’t seem like he was trying to make a statement by not speaking, but in a nod to showmanship he did end each song by taking a grand, swooping bow. “Thanks,” he told the clapping crowd after one number, “That was a song called ‘To The Heart of The Sun on The Back of The Vulture, I’ll Go.’”

Late in the show he quipped about having written only three songs that were actually meant to be performed on an acoustic guitar, but the format flattered him nonetheless, since it put his vivid, referential lyrics front and center. “Oh life is bigger,” he began one verse of “Watercolours Into the Ocean,” an obvious callback to the opening lines of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” that somehow I’d never noticed until the song had been stripped of its electric guitars. Bejar’s songs are filled with Easter eggs like that, little references that show how deeply Bejar has internalized the popular songbook, and how rock music has shaped his view of the world. He ended the set with a number he said he considered as something of a theme for the project: “Don’t Become the Thing You Hated,” a fitting takeaway from an artist who so trumpets the importance of following your own path, however esoteric it may be.

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