By Drew Litowitz, Photos By Jeff Martin from Destroyer at Black Cat, April 2011
It’s not a bad way to spend your Monday. No, watching two artistically disheveled, bearded men with Guild guitars play irreverent, meta folk-pop for around three hours isn’t the worst thing you could do with your time, or money. In fact, I’d wager it one of the better. Monday night, Stephen McBean was Pink Mountaintops. Dan Bejar was Destroyer. Both peered through half opened eyes, hiding behind uncouth facial hair, squinting at the gleaming spotlight like Saddam Hussein being pulled out of the spider hole–but with way better hair. Both also played way better songs than can be found in Saddam’s miniscule repertoire. At least I think. I haven’t listened to Oud, Live from Baghdad yet.
But I digress. The rocked-out psychedelia of Pink Mountaintops sounded fresh and unassuming coming from just one guy with an acoustic guitar. There was an understated confidence and a brilliant heir to these simple songs; compositions that sounded like power-pop castaways co-written by Alex Chilton and Charles Manson. McBean sipped his whiskey, slurred his mumbled banter, and played compelling songs channeled from the great beyond. He looked like he hadn’t been out of bed in months. I am not so familiar with Pink Mountaintops’ catalogue, but these stripped-down, folky versions made me wonder what their fuller counterparts might sound like, without necessarily wanting for more. McBean’s songwriting shone through clear; strong in its simplest form.
Then came Mr. Bejar. The main event. The man. The Legend. Oratorical master. Oxford wrinkler. Pilsner Urquell double-fister. Whiskey sipper. Perpetual post-performance bower. Sardonic sire. Yes, The Destroyer bag is a mixed one, and it’s funny to create little catch-phrases for a guy as difficult to pin down as Dan Bejar. It’s no secret that Bejar has a prickly and curmudgeonly reputation. It precedes him in every way. He often says less than 10 words during a show, usually without acknowledging his audience or displaying a single iota of enthusiasm. I even regularly refer to his shtick as “Crouching Bejar, Hidden Enthusiasm.” Yet, somehow, by some stroke of sheer cosmic genius, Bejar was on point on Monday. He brought the bacon, and it was truly a wonderful thing to witness.
A solo Destroyer show is a volatile one, a chance for the already distant Bejar to either turn his back on a new set of fans, or win them over with gorgeous renditions of a sturdy catalogue. This is a guy who literally turns his back on the audience to crouch and sip beer during sets with a full-band. It’s hard to know why somebody like that would ever put himself in front of a crowd of people, much less with only a guitar to hide behind.
But not only did Bejar bring the goods musically on Monday, he was also as animated and outspoken as could be. He smiled for god’s sake! He made jokes! DANIEL BEJAR did these things. It was fun to see him take a bit of pleasure in a performance, for once. We chuckled along with his non-sequiturs. We hummed along to “European Oils” and “Chinatown.” We sneered with him. We took note of all the female names, pop-culture references, and regurgitated clichéd aphorisms. Bejar even got animated in his delivery. His yelped, crystal clear vocals filled the beautiful space.
Bejar’s music is full of contradictions, of half-cooked stories, of transient thoughts, and of manic moods. All were on display Monday, stripped to their core, and played with the sort of easeful nonchalance only a Dan Bejar can pull off right.
Banter highlights included Bejar introducing a new track: “This is a new song…Yeah, I wrote one.” Commenting on a song and introducing another: “That was a protest song. Don’t know how that shit goes over here…This is a really old one. Don’t know how that shit goes over here.” Tying together themes: “This song has a lot of similar themes to the last song…Did you notice the similarities in the themes?” Recognizing his own limitations: “I’m not known for my banter.”
Bejar appropriately ended the night with a personal coda, in the form of a feigned, self-conscious (obviously) encore performance of ” Don’t Become the Thing You Hated.” “Don’t become the thing you hated,” Bejar continually mused with grace. It felt like he was reminding himself, in addition to everybody involved. It was powerful in it’s straightforward simplicity.
It’s easy to forget how clear Bejar’s vision as Destroyer is, how insanely profound his idiosyncratic persona under the moniker can be, and how strong of a vocal talent he is, too. Monday night was a good reminder of everything. Weapons of Mass Destruction, indeed.