by carl wilson

Destroyer in Toronto, April 19:
"A Nightmare," Three Witches Chant,
Confounding Nerds' Aim

destroyerryandombal.jpg
Dan Bejar and Destroyer live at the Bowery Ballroom, a couple of days after the concert discussed below;
photo swiped from music journo Ryan Dombal's Flickr page;
I'm glad we don't have any kind of professional guild to spank me for it.

I've had the title for this one sitting on my computer all week, because I've noticed a lot lately doing cryptic crosswords (a recent adoption) that the clues often feel like Destroyer-ese. Unfortunately to mention puzzles suggests decoding, encrypted meanings, blah blah blah, which gets it exactly wrong (in Destroyer songs, the encryption is the message; the funeral is the biography). But I was too tickled by my cryptic clue to abandon it, so there it is.

Mainly, I just wanted to tell you that if you are anywhere in range of the current Destroyer tour (eg., in New York tonight, Philly tomorrow, DC the day after - etc), you should not miss it, because there's been something of a rip in the continuum and, suddenly, Destroyer is not just a band you enjoy live because there's something endearingly awkward and stiff and strange about it all - suddenly, they're a band you enjoy live because they kick ass. Dan's reluctant-prophet manner has gone up five levels on the fire and brimstone scale - there was a hilarious moment on Saturday night when he tried to make a joke, which flew over everyone's heads and fell in a puddle to the floor. After a second's pause he grimaced sheepishly: "Uh, sorry, I've never tried saying things to the audience before." His performance was more physical and stagey - John Barrymore-era theatricalism flashing out between shakes of a super-shaggy head, thoroughly through-composed guitar lines being peeled out as if they were just jammed - which is a long way round to rock'n'roll but it can get you there.

It's in keeping with the tone of Trouble in Dreams, which is in many ways the least hostile and aggressive Destroyer record yet - almost in inverse proportion to its noisiness (Fisher Rose drums way loud). It's more of a band album (a more focused This Night) than Destroyer's Rubies and more of a Your Blues-esque crooner and 1950s-musical album too - contrary to all the backlashy "just more of the same" reviews, which one might expect after nine albums, except that it's silly to hear it coming from reviewers who only actually heard one of those albums. The erratic semi-random nature of the ... Rubies mania of aught-six is thus confirmed. Anyone have a better theory?

(I should note that true to his backlash-courting ways, there was only, I think, one ... Rubies song on the set list the other night, which I'm sure frustrated some who haven't gotten well-acquainted with Trouble and don't know This Night, the other well the band was drawing on.)

Michael Barclay told me the other day that he felt like Dan had worked so hard to convince him of the ridiculousness of rock'n'roll that he found it hard to listen to him with the current band just playing rock'n'roll. I share some of those feelings; after Your Blues, not just my favourite Destroyer record but one of my favourite records of the decade, I did regret the return to rock on Rubies - but Dan's changes have never been linear, so the sequel to Your Blues, the all-clarinet-and-sitar album, could be right around the corner. I think the thing is that right now he has this band that, when it locks into formation the way it did on Saturday night, shoots the songs straight into orbit. That might not be true tomorrow, with the musicians of Dan's Vancouver generation (including Dan himself) gradually settling into businesses, family life, and so on. In some ways the notes of regret and anticipation that I scent between the lines of Trouble in Dreams seem like change-of-life vibrations, a goodbye and the breath right before "hello." (Perhaps that desire to hold on accounts for my one real complaint about it, which is that it's two or three songs too long.) The absurdity that Destroyer has always imputed to rock, after all, is by no means unique - the path from politics to poetry leads through understanding that the effort is always ridiculous and doing it anyway. So hit the drums hard.

(Oh, and speaking of [collector] nerds' aims...)

(Plus, later:: See Dan spar with Emusic readers. Note the John Cale/Syd Barrett discussion at the end - this is what you have to explain to the people who confuse matters with all their pointless Bowie comparisons.) (On the other hand, I just realized I've never heard The Apartments.)

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, April 23 at 5:33 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

COMMENTS

Good points, 2fs - my point being just that Dan, I think, is more influenced by what Bowie was influenced by (Barrett-era Pink Floyd being a huge one for Bowie; post-Floyd Barrett for Dan; both of them very much by Dylan, though in Dan's case maybe more second-hand) than by Bowie. (And more by Roxy Music than Bowie in the glam era.) And I think he sounds much more like Barrett - Bowie's singing and Dan's are just so wildly different in timbre and approach.

But yeah, Bowie's a much more recognized figure and he's seen as representing the plastic-fantastic style that's clearly a part of the Destroyer aesthetic. It was too much to call the comparisons pointless. It's just that they're much exaggerated.

At the same time, performativeness as opposed to sincerity has a *waaaaaay* longer history than that. Which would be a way longer genealogy than I want to trace in a comments thread...

Posted by zoilus on April 29, 2008 9:21 PM

 

 

There must be a point to all the pointless Bowie comparisons, since they keep coming up, and they can't be entirely blamed on lazy critics playing Japanese whispers. My own case in point: I heard Destroyer first on Thief, without having read anything at all about the band...and there it is, twenty or so words into my neophyte review: "David Bowie"... I'd change a few things about that review if I were to write it now - but at least one thing remains true for me, and probably it's what makes the Bowie comparisons keep coming: Bejar seems uninterested in "sincerity," which is something he shares with Bowie. I mean, I feel compelled even to put the word in quotation marks...as if it's absurd even to think that "sincerity" can exist without them. And yet...one of the beautiful and devastating lessons we've learned, from Bowie and some of his epigones (among whom I'd include folks like Momus, Bejar, possibly even Stephin Merritt) is that performance and insincerity need not preclude emotional intensity. In that eMusic Q&A;, Bejar seems guarded, cryptic, yet engaged and witty, as if his answers, even if they don't actually address the question, still are the best way he knows to conjure some sort of relevance from the questions. Of course, that's one reason we have art: if everything were simple, clear, and direct, we'd have a world of recipes, telegrams, and technical memos, gray print on gray ground.

Posted by 2fs on April 27, 2008 11:39 PM

 

 

I'll have to take your word for it that the show was worth leaving the house for.
Further thoughts on our discussion are here:
http://radiofreecanuckistan.blogspot.com/2008/04/dan-bejars-mass-destruction.html

Great to see you last week!
mb

Posted by barclay on April 26, 2008 11:00 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson