Arts concert review

Timeless yet nostalgic, Destroyer does not disappoint.

Although Destroyer’s lineup has changed consistently, a signature style remains.

The Sinclair
Jan. 24, 2018

“Tinseltown swimming in blood,” Dan Bejar, of the band Destroyer, murmurs with a subdued élan, “tinsel ribbons dancing in the rain / flowers on the skyline, hey how was the wine.”

Bejar, along with the half dozen other members of Destroyer performed at The Sinclair near Harvard Square. Much like the opening lines of “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” from the latest album Ken, the group’s performance featured wonderfully colorful and evocative phrases that complemented each other with a surprising and wonderful strangeness. The surprise emerges when considering each element in isolation; the oddity of “tinsel ribbons dancing” and the casual non-sequitur “hey how was the wine” are paralleled by the instrumentation — vacillating synthesizers sprinkled with smooth jazz inflections — yet it somehow works. The series of loose associations that Bejar alludes to are enough to paint a descriptive story, and the six note trumpet motifs are just short enough to be catchy.

Destroyer was formed in Vancouver by the singer-songwriter Dan Bejar in 1995, and since then, the roster of band members has changed with the exception of Bejar himself. It may be part of the vision Bejar outlined in his 2015 interview with DIY Magazine, “that’s kind of my goal, to start from scratch every time.” Certainly part of the wonder, then, was the coherence of Destroyer’s performance.

Amidst the intimacy of The Sinclair’s small venue, the band — partly squeezed onto the stage — possessed remarkable chemistry. Although Bejar, with his slinking, mildly disheveled, fraught air, was center stage, the focal point was evenly distributed throughout the evening. The saxophonist Joseph Shabason was a Ben Folds lookalike and a passionate counterpoint to the cool trumpet player JP Carter. Josh Wells on the bass added directed rhythm with his succinct, memorable phrases.

The song “In the Morning” had a particularly delightful improvisation. Carter and Wells, each playing their respective melodies, converged on a single scale, and one ascended while the other descended, providing a wonderful tension and lift.

Ultimately, the band comes across as one that is remarkably observant, fond of altering small phrases in the music.  Bejar’s lyrics demonstrate this propensity. As he sings on “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk,” “Strike an empty pose/ A pose is always empty.”