Destroyer played career spanning set, and joined opener Sandro Perri on stage.
Destroyer is the stage name of Vancouver-based balladeer Dan Bejar, who first came to prominence as a member of the New Pornographers. He’s also a moody recluse and inscrutable to a fault. He does not do many interviews. He had no records or merch for sale at his show at La Sala Rosa on Oct. 24.
Bejar goes out of his way to convey a sense of lackadaisicalness in his music and demeanor. While doing press for his 2011 album, Kaputt, which was somewhat of a breakthrough for him, Bejar famously claimed he had recorded much of the vocal tracks while laying down on the couch or “fixing myself a sandwich.”
As for the sound of his music, you can choose from the list of inevitable descriptors: lush, swooning, baroque. Strings and keys come and go around an anchor of Bejar’s voice and guitar. It’s soft-rock influenced pop sung by a disheveled crooner.
Having no new release to promote (his latest, ken, came out a year ago), Destroyer’s string of recently completed solo shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal seemed to be more about aiding opener Sandro Perri’s latest album, In Another Life. Bejar contributed vocals to the album, as did the other opener, André Ethier, formerly of Toronto garage rock band the Deadly Snakes.
Perri is a renowned electronic musician and producer who has always gravitated toward an “indie” sound, drawing on post-rock and ambient noise influences. Perri’s gently trembling vocals hover over the first 24-minute composition on In Another Life. That track is followed by three more: “Everybody’s Paris,” parts one, two and three. Ethier and Bejar sing on parts two and three respectively.
Perri opted to simply play these three songs for his set, about 20 minutes worth of music, and had Ethier and Bejar come on stage in turns to perform their vocals. Bejar’s contributions fixated on the idea of being “torn to shreds” in the city of lights, the savageness of urban existence being a common theme in his lyrics.
Despite being a multi-instrumentalist, it’s actually rather rare to see Bejar with one in hand. When he plays with his full band, he normally lets them take care of the music while he focuses on singing. This show was a nice reminder that all of Destroyer’s songs probably start with Bejar and his guitar.
The atmosphere was pleasurably intimate, the kind of show that feels like you’re sitting in a hot bath. Bejar also took the time to engage in some banter with the crowd, something else he doesn’t normally do. With just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment, Bejar filled the room with his idiosyncratic and nasally singing style.
Remarkably, Bejar’s vocals sounded precisely as they do on his records. He didn’t flub a single note as he took the crowd through cherished songs from Destroyer’s 12-album discography. Highlights included “Times Square” and “The River” from 2015’s Poison Season, “Goddess of Drought” from 2002’s This Night, “Chinatown” from 2011’s Kaputt, “Foam Hands” from 2008’s Trouble in Dreams, and closing out the show with the timeless “Watercolours into the Ocean” from 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies.
The crowd reflected the kind of audience an artist like Destroyer builds over a 20-year career. A middle-aged couple had brought their pre-adolescent son. There were a lot of couples entwined in each other’s arms and more than one person by themselves, beer in hand, eyes closed, simply letting the music wash over them.
Photos by Kenneth Gibson