Destroyer proves relevance yet again at Aladdin

Photo by Justin Howerton

On Feb. 21, Destroyer delivered a timeless, captivating show at the Aladdin Theater. The crowd consisted of generally older people, some of whom even opted to bring their children. The physical arrangement of the venue made for an interesting crowd dynamic. There are three aisles of seats that are first come first serve, as well as an open space near the stage where more courageous attendees can stand. Most of the crowd was sitting during the beginning of the show, but more folks ventured to the front as time progressed. Lead vocalist Dan Bejar’s familiar detachment throughout his performance increased his appeal exponentially. With his shaggy hair and beard and stoic demeanor, Bejar almost resembled a contemporary Christ figure as audience members (his disciples) streamed towards him. 

Bejar defies definition. In one moment he resembles a petulant heartthrob; in others, he appears more akin to an aloof nihilist. As frontman of indie rock band Destroyer, Bejar has continually reinvented himself and his music over the course of his discography. This impermanence serves as a motif not only for Bejar but for Destroyer’s work in general, with the band having formed in 1995. Each successive LP has challenged preconceptions that familiar listeners held about Destroyer’s music; their most recent album “Have We Met” ushered the group out of their arguable dry spell after 2011’s “Kaputt.” 

“Have We Met” builds on some of the standard tropes of Destroyer’s music: Bejar’s piercing, nearly shrill vocals, slow-building melodies that incorporate varied and often unpredictable instrumentations and cryptic lyrics that will frustrate whoever attempts to decipher them. Bejar displays a near unprecedented confidence in the opening track “Crimson Tide” when he belts “I know when to hold ‘em / and I know when to leave / I know where to go / I know how to breathe.” This track in particular expands in measure and intensity over the course of its near six-minute duration and concludes with Bejar repeating the title phrase over the background of keyboards and synths. “Kinda Dark” serves as a welcome reprieve and seamlessly transitions into “It Just Doesn’t Happen.” The heavy, infectious synths in this track seemingly contradict the lyrical subject matter: “you cast a poisonous look to the sun / you know it just doesn’t happen to anyone.” The enigmatic “it” referred to here remains ambiguous in true Destroyer fashion. It could be playing on the common assumption that bad things always happen to other people and never ourselves, and in this case these lyrics may imply that a person enduring a tragedy should be thankful that something significant has finally happened to them. Whatever the definition of “it,” this track perfectly combines cynicism with synth-pop.

After an ethereal performance by opener Eleanor Friedberger, Destroyer started with the previously mentioned “Crimson Tide” and played songs from their most recent album for the first half of the set. Bejar’s nonchalance was in full display as he effortlessly drifted from one side of the stage to another; he seemed perfectly at ease drinking beer in between tracks. Much to the crowd’s delight, the band eventually drifted into the land of their older discography, performing bouncy tracks such as “Kaputt” and “Chinatown.” The spotlights followed suit, alternating between red and blue over the course of the performance. Towards the end of the set, the performance of “Savage Night at the Opera” made one appreciate the evolution of Destroyer’s music over the years. The song sounded as if it had just been written yesterday with its lyrics strikingly contemporary but also as if it had been composed decades prior. It was at this point in the show that the performance felt its most complete, but Destroyer would not end so easily. 

Fans near me emulated the subdued, buzzed behavior of Bejar as they continually retreated towards the back of the theater for more beer. Unlike the audience’s enthusiasm, Bejar remained level-headed the whole time. After what appeared to be the final track, the crowd demanded an encore; Destroyer obliged and opted to play the ten-minute epic “Bay of Pigs (Detail)” as their concluding track. The song progresses through ambience to surging melodies, occasionally skirting the realm of dissonance, but Bejar’s voice centered the audience during this bittersweet song. Bejar and bandmates waltzed off the stage casually, but not in a pretentious way. Why would they make some grand final gesture to the audience? Their relevance has been established not only for this year but for the next decade. What need do they have for pretense?

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