Destroyer / Mega Bog Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, January 22
Published Jan 23, 2018Dan Bejar's sound is immutable. No matter whether he's touring alone with an acoustic guitar (as he has done occasionally in recent years) or as part of an eight-piece ensemble (as he was on this night), his theatrical vocal delivery and cryptic poetry mean that his sound is unmistakably his own. Even when concocting power pop with the New Pornographers, there's no mistaking him for anyone else.
Destroyer's latest incarnation is fixated on soft-focus synths and smooth horns, and this made Mega Bog a natural choice for an opener. Bringing together frontwoman Erin Birgy's pastoral plucking with her bandmates' jazzy syncopations and the occasional splash of Blade Runner sci-fi, their sweetly mellow soundscapes were intriguing, but sometimes undermined by over-the-top freak-folk quirkiness.
When the headliners took the stage, they started slow, opening with the skittering drum machine and dramatically resonant piano chords of "Sky's Grey." Curiously, despite Bejar's tall frame, his mic stand was only about three feet high. When he was singing, he leaned his free hand on the stand like a cane; when he wasn't he would crouch down and take swigs from a can of beer. His eyes were nearly always cast downwards, and he seldom said more between songs than the odd "thank you."
The ensemble opened with the same string of cuts that began last year's ken, with drummer Josh Wells' booming toms and trumpeter J.P. Carter's echoing solos giving the new wave grooves of "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood" a feel that was as well-suited to a dance floor as a jazz lounge. Later in the set, the one-two punch of "Cover from the Sun" and "Stay Lost" were thundering, gratifyingly straightforward rockers.
The response of the fans at the mostly-but-not-quite-full Phoenix was appreciative but not rapturous. Given the subdued demeanour of the musicians on stage, it was only natural that the fans returned that energy in kind. Some of the fans filed out following the epic disco deconstruction "Bay of Pigs," which closed the main part of the set, but those who stuck around for the encore were treated to the dreamy "Poor in Love" and the grandiose suite "Rubies."
During the final moments of the last song, as Bejar crouched down and his bandmates bashed their way to a towering crescendo, the frontman broke into a grin — a rare crack in his facade of cool, when he seemed to get genuinely lost in the music. This may not have been a night of surprises, but for Destroyer fans wanting to see the latest material played by this virtuosic ensemble, it was satisfying.