As I hopped off my bike in front of the Gingerman, I noticed Dan Bejar sauntering towards the side alley of the Metro. His unkempt hair and beard are unmistakable, especially contrasted against his frocky white shirt. “Dan Bejar!” I yelled instinctively, “Have a good show tonight.” He managed a smirk and acknowledged my remark with a slight hand gesture. He didn’t say anything, and continued on his way.
Bejar is a rare persona in indie rock. His lazy demeanor (vocally and aesthetically) is somehow a supplement to his rock star aura. If the young Bob Dylan always kept his mouth shut, until a bottle of liquor approached his lips, it would be something close to what Bejar’s mystique accomplishes. Of course, the only other time he opens his mouth is to sing his songs. And thank God for that.
Before Destroyer took stage, Sandro Perri opened the night with what was a hybrid of late 80s’ SAIC avant garde pop and Evanston Space approved soft rock for your uncle. Playing originals from their excellent album, Impossible Spaces, and closing with a John Morton cover, it was the perfect opening act for the band that would soon play tracks off of 2011’s yacht-pop masterpiece, Kaputt.
I’m beginning to think that Sandro Perri might have released the most underrated album of 2011, especially now that I’ve heard what he’s capable of doing with his compositions in a live context. He is a critic’s dream in that he is both artist and musician, and not one more than the other. Slow and steady works to his benefit, not obligating listeners to get too riled up for his clanky guitar solos or grating synth lines. Jazzy drum fills and meandering flute licks keep Steely Dan fans happy, and the odd time signatures bring out the Dirty Projectors kids. He will almost certainly gain new fans after this stint with Destroyer, maybe even a headlining tour before the end of the year.
Destroyer’s lineup was eight men strong, Bejar in the middle of a phenomenal backing band. A trumpet player with noise effect pedals and an electric clarinet were two things I had never seen before. I wasn’t surprised to see either of these things at a Destroyer show, but unfortunately I couldn’t say the same for a couple of people in the audience. After a droning noise solo by the trumpeter, some jerk in the balcony yelled, “what was that?!” And a moment later, a girl shouted up to the stage, “you look so fucking bored!” At the time I wanted to find these audience members, and show them the door. But to be fair, I didn’t “get” Destroyer for years either. For the first five years I just couldn’t understand how it wasn’t a metal band. We can have a little patience for art’s sake.
But for the most part, Destroyer’s Chicago crowd was polite. I only noticed a couple camera phones taking pictures. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw so many people enjoying the moment of a concert so unabashedly. This is how it should be though, because Dan Bejar is one captivating individual.
Bejar kept his mic stand waist high, perfect for either leaning on like a cane, and even better as a halfway meeting point between his mouth and drinks lined on the stage floor. Every moment he wasn’t singing was spent crouching near his alcohol. He had bottles of beer, and cups of other stuff. He appeared drunk, but it’s also difficult to say for sure. He might just have that drowsy look going all the time. Either way, it is the perfect visual for a guy talk-singing, “You’ve been wasted from the day, and now you know, oh. Suffering idiots all of your life and this is what you get.”
Playing a balanced mix of new and old songs, everything sounded rowdier with the huge band. Trumpet and sax blare-outs raised the treble level painfully high at times, but then brought it right back down. Bejar kept the vibes chill, again, whether it was intentional or not is unclear. But isn’t that what the best artists always do? Creativity and ambiguity in tango, personified in dreary Dan Bejar. It’s the poetry so many artists seek but never find, Bejar appears to be so comfortable penning it that it could kill him. He even holds his skinny mic with his fingertips like it’s a writer’s pen. That or cigarette. Is music his muse or his vice? Possibly both.