all words: Mitchell London
all awesome photos: Jeff Martin
Looking at this bill, one may be tempted to question the ties that bind these two bands together. Sure, they’re both comprised of Canadians and People-My-Dad-Would-Like-To-Export-To-Canada, but the musical stylings are bluntly divergent. WOD prefers its music to be immediate; songs that (for the most part) start at full steam and rush to the finish line. Destroyer lets its music unfold, working in layers of horns and synth until it reaches its noisy apex. The chief factor that joins Destroyer and the War on Drugs is that they both aggressively meet expectations. Neither band performed below expectations – both of these bands make solid records and both have well-established and well-deserved followings, and I don’t think that any member of either following left the Black Cat with a frown. But I’ll wager that very few walked out and called their lazy friend who didn’t go to see Destroyer even though there was nothing else really going on and say “HA! You’re an idiot for missing that show!”
War On Drugs
I came to the War On Drugs show as a very casual listener; I had listened to their record and EPs a couple of times each, and I knew only three things about the band: 1. They are Kurt Vile’s old band, 2. They are from Philadelphia, PA, 3. They have heard Blonde on Blonde at least a couple of times. There were very few curveballs in their set. Most songs opened with Adam Granduciel playing a few bars of a shambling guitar riff and the rest of the band joining in all at once. It’s a simple trick, maybe, but an effective one.
WOD sounds full, loud, and boozy, as if Dylan, before plugging in his electric guitar for the first time in 1965, had a nice long pow-wow with Phil Spector and said “give me the full wall of sound.” Every song included an instrumental interlude, and I, a normal hater of guitar solos, found the instrumental sections to be my favorite parts of every song. With the synths washing everything over in a warm fuzzy bath of sound and the rhythm section at full gallop, Granduciel was able to pick out some very interesting guitar lines. Sometimes the keys and guitar strayed down the path of noisy indulgence* but snapped back into the groove after a couple of bars. These moments of groove-snap were the most compelling of the show.
The verse-chorus-verse singing parts of each song? Meh. The vocals in the Black Cat were often trebly and tough to make out, and try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Granduciel was consciously trying to make his voice sound like the Bard from Minnesota. In the last song, the similarities in pronunciation and inflection were so pronounced that I wondered if they were actually covering a Dylan song.
In contrast to my position on WOD, I am a very active listener of Destroyer. Kaputt is almost certainly one of the finest records to be released in the past several years, and easily my favorite Destroyer record. Dan Bejar, whose brain has every female at BYT hard up for brain-marriage, writes some of the best lyrics and has one of the best rock voices in the business.
For him to switch paths and make the new record more lounge-y, replete with saxophone and stories of recording vocals while making sandwiches, was a bold decision, but one that payed off in spades on wax. And live, the band faithfully recreates the spirit and sound of that record. It is sort of unfortunate that they do little else.
The only charisma that Bejar possesses is a sort of anti-charisma that forces show-goers to ponder “Is this guy serious?” The man makes zero effort to engage the crowd or stir up emotion or excitement in the room. The Black Cat on Tuesday was filled with people doing the-stand-still, and it seems to me that Bejar and Co. wouldn’t want it any other way. He gave off the impression that he wouldn’t mind if we were all sitting down at coffee tables, reading the New York Times Magazine and Barthelme short stories, pondering the fine differences between latte and cappuccino. The main dance move in his repertoire is holding his microphone parallel to the ground and contemplating it as if it were a freshly rolled cigar or the perch of an exotic bird. His back-up move was consulting his lyrics sheet, which he often held directly in front of his face.
I get it. You’re an oddball curio poet accidentally transported to earth from a dimension where no one eats pork rinds. You and David Berman both, brother. His practiced disregard felt insulting at times, but mostly it just felt boring. He didn’t banter at all, but if he did, it would sound something like “Here are some songs. Whatever.”
But anyone who has tracked Destroyer over any amount of time knew this was coming before the first blow of the trumpet. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It allowed (forced) listeners to focus on the music, and the music was mostly excellent. He covered most of Kaputt, from the relatively straightforward “Blue Eyes,” and “Song for America” to the ambling “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” and “Kaputt.” The horn section was, as expected, working overtime during the Kaputt songs; nary a song ended without seeing a full on sax-attack or a trumpet run through a delay pedal build to a cacophonous roar. The rest of the band was reserved but tight, the bass in particular adding a nice bob to most of the Kaputt selections.
Before the show, I was talking to a friend about how the band would tackle the non-Kaputt songs with its current lineup and proclivity toward Kenny G. Mostly, they didn’t. Sure, they played “Painter in your Pocket,” because, well, if you wrote that song, you would too. They also played a cut off of Rubies and a cut off of Trouble in Dreams, but these songs were noticeably hornless and stuck out like fingernailless thumbs.
For the encore, the band tackled “Bay of Pigs,” the evolving extended synthesizer freakout at the end of Kaputt. The band stayed lithe and worked through the songs many changes of pace with a professional poise. Bejar, content with his modest victory over the crowd at the Black Cat, mostly did what he does in end-of-show, go-out-with-a-bang celebration mode: consulted his lyrics sheet and held his microphone sideways. In his exultant joy, he might have even shaken a tambourine.
* My mother used to warn me against over-salting my eggs; someone should warn Granduciel about over-pedaling his guitar.