Looking like a shambolically elegant version of Donald Sutherland’s character from Animal House with permanent creases and perpetual bedhead, Dan Bejar does strike a certain look on stage. One of bemusement and detached curiosity but also of focused energy when singing his labyrinthine lyrics, his mind racing to help his tongue keep pace. At this point in his career I’d say he can safely not be known as a New Pornographer but instead as the main creative force behind Destroyer, the band that has had a parallel path with the Canadian group since the late 90s. And aside from those scattered dates where he joined AC Newman, Neko Case et al to celebrate Mass Romantic, it’s been a few records since he actually helped create a studio record.
Instead he’s been on a steady course of releasing records where the scope of his muse doesn’t outrun the talents of the band or his songwriting. Kaputt seemed to be a transition point from where he went from the erudite musings of Bowie into more of a glam-pasted yacht rock pastiche of Bryan Ferry, and subsequent records of Poison Season, Ken, and Have We Met still sailed in those crystalline waters. His latest, Labyrinthitis shares some of that same DNA but things also get a little crazier.
I never thought that terms like ‘full-throated’ or ‘wild-eyed’ would be applicable to a Destroyer show, but here we are. And not in Bejar’s delivery but rather the composite sound of the entire band. The second song was “June,” a pop and slap bass workout from Colin Cowan that gradually built into a no-wave guitar storm courtesy of Nicolas Bragg and David Carswell. Gotta say I didn’t see that one coming.
The guitar work mirrored well with Ted Bois’ layered keyboards and the extremely elastic rhythm section of Cowan and Joshua Wells (ex-Black Mountain), but the secret sauce is trumpetist JP Carter. Any self-respecting/aspiring yacht rocker to sail the seas of cheese would have a sax player front and center (I mean, the template is well-established) but Carter and his use of electronics gives the sound a spacey sheen that clearly makes itself a primary component of Destroyer’s sound. Imagine “Chinatown” without his parts and it’s a completely different song.
New record Labyrinthitis was well represented tonight as was the records preceding it, aside from “Tinseltown Swimming In Blood” from Ken, the deliciously burbling bass line belying vague references to decay and regret. And with fifteen records under his belt, Bejar is sure to disappoint fans who would love to hear some of the early material. Hey, there’s only so many songs one can play and “European Oils” with its reference to the fucking maniac who hangs people for a living was very satisfying. Overall an outstanding show from Bejar and his band.
Rosali stood on the Sinclair stage a few months ago when she was joined with Emily Robb as a relatively quiet duo performance as opener for Hiss Golden Messenger. Tonight would be considerably different, with a full-volume band centered around the David Nance Group. A thread of continuity existed with bass player/de facto leader Nance also playing with Robb in Astute Palate, and it wasn’t a mirage that the players were so well matched with Rosali Middleman as she recruited them to play on her latest record, No Medium.
There were several cubic meters of dust that were kicked up during the show, with Rosali occasionally circling with the band, her back to the audience as the swells of the music took hold in the same manner Neil Young uses when bringing Crazy Horse to sonic heights. Nance’s backing vocals also brought shades of Jefferson Airplane to mind, his Kantner-esque voice mingling nicely with Rosali’s deep and rich intonations.
Not surprisingly, the quartet stuck entirely to the new record and hit every song. Towards the end, a feedback-laden intro that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Sonic Youth show brought energy to “Pour Over Ice,” Rosali’s farewell poem to alcohol and leading into the noise squall of “Bones,” Jim Schroeder wringing unearthly tones from his Telecaster. Now that’s a way to close out a set.