Vancouver’s Dan Bejar, more famously known as Destroyer, came to the Grad Club Saturday night for a sold-out solo acoustic set.
One might not first associate Bejar with the idea of the archetypal acoustic balladeer. His breakthrough album under the Destroyer name – 2011’s excellent Kaputt – was a lushly orchestrated pop record full of sprawling, wonderfully indulgent arrangements. It split the difference between Eno-like ambient electronics and adult-contemporary adornments that evoked 1980s easy-rock stalwarts like Christopher Cross and Don Henley.
That might sound like an unpleasant mess on paper, but it turned out beautifully; Kaputt was highly regarded by critics, was shortlisted for the Polaris Prize and found Bejar a wider audience comparable in size to that from his time with the New Pornographers.
But Destroyer had been an ongoing concern for 15 years before Kaputt, and much of the recorded output up to that point had consisted of Bejar in acoustic singer-songwriter mode. It’s this version of Destroyer that the Grad Club was presented with Saturday night.
Consequently, anybody looking for the bubbling effervescent textures of “Suicide Demo For Kara Walker” was probably surprised, and more than likely a little disappointed. But as audiences are sometimes loathe to learn, just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad. Bejar’s solo set was a beautiful thing to witness, absence of drum machines and saxophones be damned.
The setlist spanned his whole career, from his earliest output in the 90s to, yes, a few cuts from Kaputt, and all the way through to his most recent release, the Five Spanish Songs EP.
Bejar’s voice is truly something to behold in person; on record it registers as a thin, fey almost-whisper, but in this particularly sparse arrangement it became clear just how powerful and controlled of an instrument it can be. For much of the show, the audience was dead silent, allowing his cryptic lyrics and truly overwhelming voice to fill the room.
He didn’t talk much throughout the performance, but when he did it was always a joke at the expense of the very high student population in the audience. “Thanks for coming out,” he said near the end of the show, “but then I feel like you would be here anyway. This seems like your spot.”
It was then that a woman in the audience could be heard saying, quite loudly, “I think he’s making fun of us and I don’t like it.” In some ways, this was a major highlight of the show.
I’m sure that some were either disappointed with Bejar’s choice to perform solo or with his acerbic wit but, regardless, something unique was happening in the Grad Club whether you felt it or not.
Destroyer’s latest release Five Spanish Songs is now available digitally and in stores.
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