Destroyer was my soundtrack to art school. Dan Bejar’s astute turns of phrase and candour—some say pretentious, I say acerbic and witty—provided running commentary on the fine art of sidestepping personas and dealing with the egos and affectations that an art institute can foster. Given the looser and louder approach for Trouble in Dreams and his public persona—aloof, disdainful and a prickly interview—I headed to the Commodore curious to see how it would all translate live.
I’ll fess up: In true rock critic fashion, I showed up late and missed local openers Victoria Victoria and half of Frog Eyes’ set. Irresponsible? Fine. Reliable sources informed me that, despite a small but loyal contingent up front, Frog Eyes’ brand of sinister and ramshackle drama didn’t win over most punters. What I did see did not disappoint, however: demonic doo-wop from a creepy basement free of affectation and full of soul. Casey Mercer—man, he’s got a set of pipes. That is all.
Part of the beauty of Destroyer is that Bejar’s work is a combined homage and mid-finger salute to the
artifice that is the rock spectacle: the fantasy rawk figure is just glitter and greasepaint or, in East Van terms, plaid and beards. It was fitting, then, that amidst the overpriced draft, fancy lights, security goons and the crowd yelling requests, Bejar and co. eschewed note-perfect
replication and went Dylanesque. Think 1965, Manchester Free Trade Hall—rock it out, crank up the nuance, trade the delicate phrasing and croon for a caterwaul. Initially captivating (especially “Rubies” and “Dark Leaves form a Thread”), the songs mushed into each other after a while. Commodore shows are like that, though: if not at
capacity, the band competes with the large space, the energy fizzles and you spend half the evening wishing it were in a smaller venue.
There were epic moments, however fleeting,
reaching Last Waltz proportions by the end, where Destroyer self-reflexively jammed the rock idiom’s pomposity to its absurd, yet logical, conclusion: some guys on a stage playing loud. Nothing more.