Many of Bejar’s new songs have already burrowed themselves into the Destroyer canon.
If you are a Destroyer fan and haven’t seen Dan Bejar live, the singer likely will play into the image you’ve conjured up from listening to his albums. Curly hair standing at attention and splaying over like a weeping willow, baggy clothes hanging off him, Bejar played a shambolic 16-song set at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom, focusing heavily on ken, his 12th album under the Destroyer moniker.
Despite the venue being only half-full, Bejar and his band offered up muscular versions of the icy songs that make up his latest album. Though the musician does shape-shift from record to record (Kaputt took on yacht rock, ken leans more heavily on synth-pop), there is a unifying force that ties Bejar’s songwriting together, somewhat sad and lonely late-night confessionals, so it seems. Live, the songs from ken transform from intimate, almost paranoiac paeans into something else. Flanked by up to five musicians at times, Bejar has stepped away from the lonely synth lines and added punchy guitar to these songs.
Kicking off with “Sky’s Grey,” Bejar’s setlist featured eight tracks from ken, its name based on a working title from a song by Suede. In fact, Bejar only deigned to play two songs older than 2011, both of which came from his acclaimed 2006 album, Destroyer’s Rubies (“European Oils” and “Rubies”). The polish and seductive sheen that make Destroyer’s music feel almost silky didn’t exist in the live arena, but not everyone wants to hear slavish reproductions of their records.
As a frontman, Bejar did little to interact with the crowd. He seemed wrapped in his performance, often singing with eyes closed while gripping the microphone. Sometimes, he beat a tambourine against his leg. At his feet rested three plastic cups, one filled with water, the other two with beer. During each instrumental break, Bejar sank down to his knees and fiddled with the cups. Usually, he opted for the beer. By the set’s end, all three of the cups were empty.
Many of Bejar’s new songs have already burrowed themselves into the Destroyer canon. The audience sang along to the end of “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” and danced during “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk.” Yet, a Destroyer show would feel more appropriate in a seated venue. Bejar makes music that is meant to be absorbed and savored. Though the set flew by at a scant 70 minutes, ending with “Dream Lover,” Bejar still made the case for being one of the most interesting, and enigmatic, musicians out there today.