If anyone can get away with using a lyric sheet during a live performance, it’s Destroyer’s Dan Bejar. Building his involved lyrics from dream snatches, baroque spirals of internal thought, references to Vancouver, Canada districts, directives to the press (“Don’t be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves”) and exasperation with a vexing girl named Christine, Bejar spent most of his show at the Troubadour on Tuesday with his eyes closed, seemingly in deep recall. When not doing that, he simply whipped out a sheet of paper and sang the lines.
By either method, it was a transfixing show, one that was almost totally devoted to the Canadian artist’s latest album, “Kaputt,” a heady wash of blown-out '80s sax, meditation-soft keys, hot-and-bothered backup vocalists and Bejar’s own highly idiosyncratic singing, a strange jumble of precision and chill.
Playing with a seven-piece band that included saxophone and trumpet, the show might have been disappointing to those who were hoping for deep cuts from Destroyer’s estimable catalog, especially his splendorous romp “Destroyer’s Rubies.” The two songs that Bejar did play off his 2006 breakthrough, however, were some of the best of the show. “Painter in Your Pocket” was its usual shambling self, but treated with the kind of frizzled '80s minimalism found on “Kaputt.” For style junkies like Bejar, mash-ups and other forms have made the whole history of pop music seem like a spilled jewel bag for thieves: Any style is fair game to grift, so long as you spend it well. Unlike your usual mash-up artist, Bejar’s work is not about exposing the seams of that appropriation but about smoothly incorporating it as part of his own.
It’s a heavy mission to accomplish, that streamlining of everything that’s caught your ear, and sometimes during the show, it seemed that some of the songs might disassemble even as they were being played. It was thrilling to keep an eye out for what seemed like possible wreckage at any moment. “Song for America,” a sexy strut of sax and longing poetry, all fried in a big, buttery pan of fretless bass, tossed back and forth between funk and destruction. No side ever won. For a band named Destroyer, funk and destruction, like the notions of death and rebirth, might be part of the same blessed mess.
-- Margaret Wappler
Photo credit: Ted Bois