Destroyer delivers a night of surprises at the El Rey


By Gabriel Jones

It takes a remarkable showman who can keep an audience mesmerized while barely saying a word, but Dan Bejar is just that. His concerts tend to be bundles of contradictions – tight but sprawling, intimate but alien, retro but futuristic – that feel like a strange, beautiful new life form. And, like his music, suggest that much more interesting things happen when you figure out what’s expected, head there for a moment, and then veer off in the other direction.

Destroyer’s show Wednesday at the El Rey Theatre showed some new directions for Bejar and his band. First, it’s gotten bigger – eight musicians shared the stage, Bejar having handed over guitar duties. With just a microphone (and occasional beer bottle) in hand now he looks even more like a mad prophet than he already did. There are also a couple of horns, trumpet and saxophone, but in normal Destroyer fashion they’ve been distorted, warped, deconstructed, making the band sound gloriously like apocalyptic jazz – these are the guys we’d want as musical accompaniment if we go down with the ship.

Starting in typical wild-prophet fashion with “Your Blues,” Bejar himself spent much of the musical interludes and the breaks between songs on one knee, eyes often closed, like he’s finding a new religion with his audience, and like most Destroyer shows – meditative, exhilarating, alternatively spare and lush – it felt like a spiritual revival for the indie set.

And although the band played several songs from last year’s “Kaputt,” they reworked that album’s sound – itself an unusual departure for the band into dream-pop yacht rock – to be more traditionally Destroyer-like and to be a bit more danceable, culminating in an astonishing 10-minute encore of “Bay of Pigs” that left the whole place vibrating.

Opening the show was Bejar’s fellow Canadian Sandro Perri, who himself sounds like he’s been listening to a lot of Destroyer along with a lot of 1970s Paul Simon. Perri’s band, looking like he’d assembled them from the Electrical Workers Local but just as tight and precise as the headliners, sounded like they’d taken a K-Tel “Golden Hits of the 70s” album, spliced it up, and reassembled it Wilco-style into something rich and strange. And like Destroyer, Perri listens carefully for the other directions he can go in, and in a split second his band is off – polyrhythmic, cosmopolitan, and during some of his mini-epic jams they made you feel for a few minutes like you were back in the ’70s, and that it would be all right.