Destroyer’s Disappearing Act

destroyer dan bejar

Where does Dan Bejar go when he performs? Ostensibly, he’s center stage in a packed room at the Sinclair. But in reality, he’s somewhere far away. It’s a great illusion. As far as you can tell, Bejar is standing on stage with his band Destroyer and running through some of the most interesting and thought-provoking music being made today. But you get the feeling that if you tried to reach out and touch him your hand would pass right through.

Before we get to Bejar The Magnificent’s vanishing trick, we have to talk about the night’s opener, Mega Bog. At some shows it’s nearly impossible to find a throughline between the openers and the headliner; but that was not the case this night. Mega Bog inhabits the same dreamy, multi-layered world as Destroyer. Erin Bergy has a languid voice that swirls around the many instruments she packs into her tracks. The band’s performance at the Sinclair, however, stripped away some of the layers to reveal a quiet tenderness. The band played a gentle set that quietly set the stage for a night of introspection.

How do you even describe Destroyer’s music? Is it jazz fusion? Indie rock? Lounge music? There’s a mysteriousness to the band’s sound; it’s an auditory puzzle. But seeing them perform live was like getting the chance to see how the pieces fit together. Eight people took the stage, each serving a crucial role. Trumpets were distorted and looped, guitars plucked along and suddenly exploded, bass thundered, a saxophone sounded like the 80s, and at one point there was a giant god damn flute! The only way to understand what Destroyer sounds like is to listen. Bejar himself has said, “The first eight Destroyer records are in love with rock’n’roll but they are constantly attacking on the language of rock’n’roll.”

One of the central ways Destroyer attacks the language of rock’n’roll is through language. Bejar’s lyrics are poetryboth in their content and their delivery. Each song is a new chance to meditate on different feelings, situations, and themes. Take for example show opener “Sky’s Grey;” Bejar paints a picture of a decaying landscape where “The groom’s in the gutter / And the bride just pissed herself.” But like most Destroyer songs, there’s something to hold on to. While the walls come crashing down around him Bejar sings “I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist” a handful of times. Not only is this an immediately evocative line, it’s just downright fun to sing along with.

This brings us back to the disappearing act. Like any form of poetry, it takes time to get in the rhythm of the work. The audience has to open themselves up to Bejar’s particular stylings; it takes more time with Destroyer than it does for most acts. But once you get on his wavelength, there’s nothing like it. Not only does the audience have to find their groove, it appeared that Bejar himself needed to go somewhere else to conjure up his magic.

To start the show Bejar knelt down to place his drinks, check the set list, and possibly to gather himself. At the start of a song he would stand and assume the same position: one hand resting on a hip-level mic stand, the microphone in his other hand, and singing with eyes closed. When his part was done, he would kneel back down and begin the process again. From time to time he would scan the crowd with a furrowed brow. This gave the feeling that he was observing us more than we were observing him, making sure that we were following along closely.

The band did have one trick up their sleeve when they upended the status quo of the evening during “Rome.” All of the instruments let loose for a cathartic wall of noise and Bejar yelled his vocals for the only time that night.  But for the most part, Bejar sings like there’s no one around him; he’s simply standing on a stage reciting poetry.

The night had a hazy progression of songs from the newest album Ken, a large chunk from breakout Kaputt, and even a deep cut from 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies. Because of the unique language the band speaks, each song blends into the next with a beautiful flow. Bejar was front-and-center but it was almost like he wasn’t there at all. Destroyer closed out their encore with “European Oils.” Like any good magician, Bejar ended the night where he started: kneeling, looking out amongst the crowd and smirking at pulling off the trick.