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Even when his lyrics border on the incomprehensible, there’s always something consequential, even formalistic, to the songs of Dan Bejar. Like his band’s name suggests, the Destroyer frontman is always unraveling the tropes of the pop underground, even when at his most shambolic (read: best). But what does a perennial iconoclast do when the stakes are low?
Have a good time, apparently, at least as much as he can. Such was the case last night at the Black Cat, where the Vancouver songwriter performed solo, his only instruments an echoey, crimson acoustic guitar and his nasal, magniloquent vocal style. With no album to promote (or merch to sell), Bejar dug deep into his discography, drawing almost evenly from his eight albums. This may have disappointed the portion of the crowd requesting songs from Bejar’s best-known extracurricular, The New Pornographers (although he did play “Streets Of Fire,” an early Destroyer song that the New Pornos remade). But for Bejarphiles, the sauntering and unpredicable set was a treat.
(Fuzzy, romantic, and mopey, New York indie rockers Iran opened, but the meat-and-potatoes set demonstrated how much the group’s recent album, Dissovler, benefited from producer David Sitek‘s atmospheric hand.)
Throughout the evening, Bejar gave his early, more formless songs backbone (“Destroyer’s The Temple,” “No Cease Fires!”), while slackening the reins on more disciplined, recent material (“What Road,” “European Oils”). He even granted one request, “Virgin With A Memory,” which he had to relearn as he played, smiling throughout. (This set off an onslaught of audience appeals, to which Bejar responded, “Let’s get back to the list. I can’t even remember anything you’ve said.”)
“Your Blood” shed its gauzy, swaggering cast for a jerking, bossa nova treatment, while the last-call ramble “Self Portrait With Thing” became a concise waltz. Several times, Bejar scrunched up his face as he stretched out a weighty word or syllable (as with “tonight is not your niiiight!” or “this joy in being baaaarred from the temple”), and often skipped a rest or half-measure as he approached a chorus. This was Bejar’s self-described “European Jazz”—which owes as much to David Bowie as to David Thomas and David Berman—stripped naked and let loose.
As The Washington Post‘s David Malitz pointed out in his XX Merge write-up yesterday, there’s something inherently magnetic and bewildering about Bejar, whose idiosyncrasies become especially apparent when not packaged with a full band. That description could apply just to his boozy stage presence or appearance (his head was messy pyramid of curls). But that personality is laced throughout his dense, postmodernist lyrics, too. “Your backlash was right where I wanted you,” he sang in “What Road,” and it was hard to say whether he meant it as a come-on or a fake-out.
Maybe it’s better not to know. Would that this cryptic troubadour always stays weird.