Destroyer (Photos by Daniel Kielman)
From about 2005 to 2010, a group of critically acclaimed, sad, and nostalgic Canadians ruled indie rock with a cold sense of beauty and unique instrumentation. The Fillmore’s original bill for Saturday night, which included the howling, literary songs of Vancouver’s Frog Eyes (who had to cancel their set due to visa issues) and the idiosyncratic stylings of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, could function as a suitable tribute to the era. Even without Frog Eyes, the downcast eyes and poetic ramblings of Dan Bejar led the evening to be a look backwards — the ornate and pronounced strings on his latest LP Poison Season re-imagine jazz and yacht rock as a medium for sincere and intense nostalgia.
Playing as an eight piece band — including a saxophonist, a trumpet player, two guitarists, a drummer, a bassist, and a keyboardist — Destroyer opened with the cinematic “Times Square, Poison Season 1” and then transitioned into the trumpet-blaring rock of “Dream Lover”. It’s the same one-two punch that opens Poison Season and announced the quiet/loud energy Bejar would return to throughout the show. Known for his less than engaging stage presence, Bejar seems a bit more comfortable these days despite leaning down and drinking from a beer on the stage during every instrumental break of every song (by the end of the show, I would guess he’d finished about 5).
Set highlights included “European Oils” from 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies, one of their most powerful and affecting songs with an iconic, twinkling piano riff; the grooving, soft rock of “Chinatown” from 2013’s Kaputt; and the dejected romanticism of “Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of Night’s Ape)“, which had Bejar hunched over the microphone singing “I’ve got street despair carved into my heart” and “we live in darkness / the light is a dream you see.”
Of note was the overall rock style of the set. The live drummer showed no fear in blasting his drum set with forceful hits, granting the performance a more convincing range of emotions when the songs reached a full band uproar. Playing for about an hour and fifteen minutes, Bejar made a forceful argument that the introspective Canadian musical moment is not dead yet — it might be older and quieter and easier to listen to but those are natural changes as these artists continue to age. Are they losing their edge? Maybe. But it’s natural and maybe in some way actually quite beautiful, a relaxing softness permeating a musical core that grew out of a youthful disaffection.