Destroyer Crooned to a Full Room at the Metro for TNK

Photo by Kate Scott Daly.

Dan Bejar sat on the Metro’s old stage, often taking sips from a glass beer bottle or a plastic water bottle. He paced around on stage, looking down at the floor while softly speaking into the microphone, like a poet who only speaks in verse and metaphor at a confession to with his priest.

Destroyer, the eight-person band that revolves around songwriter Dan Bejar (of The New Pornographers and Swan Lake fame), played to a full house at the Metro last Saturday for winter festival Tomorrow Never Knows. During the band’s 20-plus year run, Bejar remixed old sounds while playing much of his recent record from last fall's ken.

Blending synth sounds, disco music, and glam rock, Destroyer carefully circumvents the boundaries of smooth jazz and soft rock (I mean: reverberated tenor saxophone and a fretless bass). Still, his abstract, wry lyrics and opaque stage persona ask if he’s being ironical or if he’s writing a parody — he’s found in the similar ambiguous area as Beck’s seminal 1999 work (and plastic-soul opus), Midnite Vultures. But Bejar might be more like the enigmatic Bowie and Leonard Cohen, who Bob Dylan once said writes songs into prayers.

Photo by Kate Scott Daly.

Echoes of New Order come to the background, too, if not outright to the foreground with driving baselines that could have been written by Peter Hook himself on “In the Morning” and “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood." Destroyer’s songs are impressionistic and modernist; Bejar’s writing is deliberate and yet verbose; Bejar himself lurks at the front of the stage but he’s not a “frontman;” he’s more like a writer who happened upon a guitar.

And thanks to his cast of talented musicians who’s followed him for every tour since at least 2011’s Kaputt, the band filled the set with color and texture — from a muted trumpet to an airy flute.

Photo by Kate Scott Daly.

Still, the band played mostly from the same swath of synthy sounds found on 2017's ken, 2015’s Poison Season, and on the sleaze and sheen of 2011's critically-acclaimed record, Kaputt. After all, a highlight of seeing Destroyer play live is to see Bejar play his older songs, including “European Oils” from 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies.

As predictable as their setlist was, they had another surprise or two. The trumpet player processed his notes with sound effects, creating a long but engaging transition into “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.” And they even ended the night with the 11-minute disco banger “Bay of Pigs (Detail)” — that is, before an exciting, roaring encore with “Rubies.”

Destroyer is a band for people who take listening to music seriously (including, or especially, music writers, apparently). And beneath his cloak of cynicism and indifference lies joy. Amid an air of vague, circular confessions and nostalgia is an aging Bejar who, in spite of his prickly reputation, enjoyed performing on stage to an excited crowd.

Photos by Kate Scott Daly.
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Colin Smith

Colin Smith thinks that Chicago right now is the place to be for music. He works for Illinois Humanities, is a freelance writer, and plays psychedelic-pop songs with his band.