Sandro Perri and Destroyer are two artists who release impeccably crafted, ambitiously choreographed, and, ultimately, captivating records, albums that immerse you in a world of non sequitur guitar lines approaching a center from two angles, impressionistic jazz dashed in with the flick of a wrist, and arrangements that almost seem to have slipped out of the ether. These alien sounds are, of course, all centered on the cryptic, yet mostly all-knowing ramblings of their idiosyncratic frontmen. Perri’s Impossible Spaces and Destroyer’s Kaputt, for example, both guide listeners through lands where influence can come from the AM radio of a passing car just as easily as a visit to an Mbira concert in the heart of Zimbabwe, all while their songwriters yell about wolf-men and fantasies about British music publications. But whatever’s going on in those heads of theirs, it usually ends up coming out the other end in a relatively digestible tablet, as is especially true with those recent releases. But of course, that’s a much more executable achievement in the studio than in the concert hall. When transferred to the stage, this stuff can either be some of the best live music you’ll ever witness or some of the most disastrous. Lucky for D.C., we either caught them on a good night, or they’ve managed to figure this whole live thing out.
Sandro Perri was the first of the night to convince us that the show would stray pretty far from the disastrous. The Toronto-based auteur brought forth his ever-winding folkscapes with a delicacy and minute awareness rarely seen in the realm of the indie-rock performer. Like a less pretentious (and less in-your-face) Dave Longstreth, Perri and his band played inexplicably complicated music with “impossible space” and soothing calm, recalling some of the masters of manically serene music: Arthur Russel or Panda Bear, for instance. Guitar segments played out like the electric guitar canon on shuffle, an epic noise solo following an afro-funk progression of the strangest chords one could strum in succession. Drum fills fell all over the place, a light speckle on a crash symbol morphing into a timpani thunder storm keeping time for fuzzing synth-bass and digi-sax. “The Wolfman” and “Changes” hit hard, and Perri’s polite, collected, and cool demeanor made his difficult but catchy songs all the more fun to witness, a perfectly suitable way to introduce Bejar’s band.
Having seen Destroyer live several times prior, I know as well as the next guy that it’s hit or miss when it comes to Bejar’s erratic universe. Hell, the wind blows his frizzled French-poet-fro the wrong way, like it did at Coachella this year or at Pitchfork last summer, and the guy will have his back turned to the crowd for the entire show, seemingly just waiting for his cue to leave the stage. He is not an excited individual, which means if his proverbial spine–his band–isn’t on their game, the thing can become snoozefest ’12 in a heartbeat. Bejar’s favorite position onstage, and the one I’ve probably seen him in more often than not, is one I’ve since dubbed “Crouching Bejar Hidden Enthusiasm,” a tactical effort to hide away from the eye of the crowd while he nurses a Stella Artois and waits for his next turn to delicately clutch his condenser mike and spew Dylan-esque word vomit along to the backing music. There was still much of that last night, but unlike other Destroyer shows I’ve seen, the stuff wasn’t just interesting, it was enthralling, a show that did justice to how much passion and thought go into Bejar’s music, and it highlighted why it’s a crying shame when lazily performed, as it occasionally is.
The band’s energy and impressive musicianship, and even the slightest bit of sincerity from Bejar (the dude fucking smiled towards the end of the set, and I almost thought a black hole would form), brought classics like “Rubies”, “European Oils”, and “Your Blues” to their apexes, while Kaputt tracks beamed with fervor instead of self-indulgent escapism. Since I last saw them a mere two months ago, Bejar and his band seem to have found a way to translate the half-awake dreamworld of Kapputt into a wide-eyed explosion, without neglecting why it is that those songs strike such specific chords. The songs don’t lose much of their new-age daydream yet somehow excite at the same time. The band’s drummer kept things most vital, injecting both “da da da da daaa” backing vocals and a commanding pulse into everything played. There was never a dull moment, which, for Bejar, is like climbing Everest. For a guy as typically absent and distant as Bejar, he and his band were undeniably present last night. He thanked, he smiled, he conquered.
Bejar closed out the show with a smiley, epic “Bay of Pigs”, and it felt like, for the first time at a Destroyer show, his famous line rang true: “All good things must come to an end/ The bad ones just go on forever.” I guess, then, this thing had to eventually come to a close.
Suicide Demo for Kara Walker
Bay of Pigs