blurry photo of Destroyer by the author
I kept staring at Dan Bejar’s microphone. At times during last Saturday’s Opera House set, the man with the unlikely bandonym of Destroyer would inspect it in the manner of an absently curious scientist; more often he grasped the mic cord in his spare hand, like some soul singer from the pocket universe where David Lynch went into music promotion. Dressed in white, curls a dark corona, there was a certain resemblance to Jesus Christ as well, at least after he ended up in that desert. When Bejar dropped to his knees, as he frequently did, it wasn’t a James Brown move but a way to furtively sip. Does any other frontman hunch down at climactic moments?
Despite that, his Toronto Jazz Festival gig displayed a new ease and comfort onstage. It’s Bejar’s first non-album tour ever, but the influence of his previous and best album Kaputt is still plain. On that record, his confounding, thickly allusive lyrics and sly songwriting were draped for the first time in sonic beauty – the kind of raiments, like smooth-jazz horns and Quiet Storm R&B, that invite skeptical accusations of ironism. Last weekend’s seven-piece band was almost identical to the Kaputt tour’s, however, minus two backup singers, and Bejar rearranged numerous older songs to fit his new aesthetic. Transgressive jokes tend not to involve this much effort.
When Bejar entered, murmuring “why does every one of her lovers leave her,” it was a capella. The supporting players were forcefully precise, but they sounded most compelling following his designs – if vocals fell too low in the mix, or the bass got a little rudimentary, one had the sense of a bridled jam band. Bejar sang about “chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world” with suggestive languor, chopping up or drawing out particular syllables as ingeniously as an MC: “This night advancessssss…” His stage persona could now be described as prophetically louche.
As the show went on, Destroyer got looser. The only blatant “jazz festival” moment, aside from Bejar singing with his back to the audience a la Miles Davis, was an extended solo of filtered trumpet noise, but you could feel it in spirit. The tender flute solo that commences “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” in earnest gave way to amplified acoustic guitar, and it all made sense. At the end they almost seemed to be playing a fictional, supernaturally good wedding band. It was an air guitar moment, or an Air Guitar moment.