At the strike of 10:15 in the evening, a group of seven takes the stage at the Regent Theater— a rather intimate, all standing venue in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Among them, their leader, a frontman with impeccably dishevelled hair extending in all directions, outfitted in a dark pink button down with the right number of buttons left undone, inconspicuously comes forward. The entirely sold-out room bustles with cheers, a plethora of noise and praise, yet the man of the hour seems unfazed. He merely acknowledges the noise in its direction with a look, as his band wields their instruments.
For anyone who has listened to a Destroyer record, such stage presence should come as no surprise. Throughout the course of his prolific discography, Dan Bejar, formerly known primarily as a member of indie wonder group The New Pornographers, has developed a sound entirely his own, subversively easing through a multitude of genres, steeped heavily in electronic and pop with rock embellishments. With a knack for romantic and beguiling soundscapes, Bejar has been known to pair them with words showcasing incisive and cultural criticism, positioning a mirror to the world’s contradictions and contrivances. This has caused him to be something of a skeptic and a prophet, a cynic with the heart of a romantic. Delving into themes of affection and alienation, the music of Destroyer has always displayed a certain effortless quality, even at its most jaded and perhaps dark, a sumptuous juxtaposition that he’s mastered, even though he’s perhaps reluctant to admit any of that.
On tour for 2017’s Ken, the band begins the set with the record’s first three tracks to establish footing: the densely dramatic “Sky’s Grey,” the sun-drenched shoegaze of “In the Morning,” and the New Order homage of “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood.” With tantalizing horns, steady drums, and more than a few gnarly guitar solos, the music comes alive on stage, embracing a certain deconstructed grit anchored by Bejar’s characteristically relaxed deadpan vocals. Without offering any filler stage banter, Bejar bows to the audience, a mere red herring as the band transitions into the beloved title track of 2011’s Kaputt, a record that cemented his range as well as his following. The already buzzing room expands its excitement as the band exudes smooth sonic textures, setting the stage for Bejar who details the nature of an old rock-n-roll lifestyle. “Wasting your days, chasing some girls, alright, chasing cocaine through the backrooms of the world, all night,” he croons. Any illicit substances seem unnecessary though, especially when the performers are already this good.
The set continues with “Times Square,” the centerpiece off 2015’s heavily underrated Poison Season. The trumpet and keys are still ablaze but they leave room for the guitars, a quality that comes across in the live performance, speaking to the layered instrumentation that may go unnoticed on a studio recording.
Similarly, in the live setting, the tracks off last year’s Ken take on a more rock sensibility, giving the two guitarists room to play off one another in tracks like “Cover From the Sun” and “Rome.” Interspersed in these more recent tracks off his discography are nods to the past like the soothingly melancholic Kaputt opener, “Chinatown” and the sprawling gem off 2006’s Rubies, “Looter’s Follies.” It’s a testament to how cohesive and palpably developed Bejar’s style is as the setlist feels wholly seamless, a gleaming product of an artist who has been refining and embellishing his sound throughout the course of his career.
The proper set ends with “Bay of Pigs,” an ambitious track that leisurely strolls beyond the 11-minute mark. It is here that the band’s efforts and Bejar’s sonic sensibilities all come together: an elegantly pulsing electronic intro that only breaks open for percussion, horns, and acoustic guitar past the halfway mark, a result that feels equally sentimental and danceable, painstakingly meticulous and effortlessly beautiful, all impeccably executed. Even with the track’s sonic shifts, Bejar remains in the center as though he’s holding down the claim he’s staked out for himself.
The encore and the evening come to a close with the epic and rather celebratory “Rubies,” and it’s deliriously marvelous. Every sonic detail is accounted for and executed impeccably, meriting only the most decisive cheers and applause. Bejar bows again to the audience, revealing a satisfied smile on his face before exiting the stage with his band. For an artist who sounds so effortless on his records, it’s remarkably life-affirming to see such effort on the stage.