Rumpus Sound Takes: In the Lap of Victory

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Destroyer at (Le) Poisson Rouge, June 19, 2012

Destroyer’s latest album, Kaputt, opens with “Chinatown,” in which synthesized arpeggios swirl around the singer. In his turbid state, Daniel Bejar fixates on the otherworldly allure of the place summoned by the title. Equally mystifying at first listen, the record marks a significant stylistic shift for Destroyer, introducing drum machines and loops, and embracing long stretches of wordless, ambient sound.

Kaputt came out in January of last year. In the wake of its release, the band has toured the United States and Canada; it has put out music videos for two of the album’s tracks, and made an appearance on late night television. For Record Store Day this year, Merge Records released a remastered, expanded vinyl version of the band’s 2006 record, Destroyer’s Rubies. Now a wider release of this reissue marks the occasion for a second tour, and a chance perhaps to reconcile the seemingly divergent style of Kaputt with the band’s earlier output.

Red lights shine outside the entrance to (Le) Poisson Rouge. Inside, opener Sophia Knapp is a tolerable imposition on the audience’s drinking and conversation: four-on-the-floor, a friendly march to the chorus, shades of Fleetwood Mac—or Kate Bush, if you’re generous. The synth is high in the mix. Between Knapp’s routine strumming and the clockwork rhythm section, it’s the only hint of life in the music. The synth player sits in a corner of the stage, nearly invisible from the crowd’s vantage. The sound is too pristine; it might as well be piped in.

The punk music played over the house speakers during intermission is less obtrusive because it’s quieter. The house lights dim once more but no one comes on stage. Instead, a loud, looped track, the five-second intro to “Chinatown,” extends over five minutes. Finally, the band comes out and launches into an early number, “English Music,” from 2001′s Streethawk: A Seduction.

Seven players are on stage with Bejar—two guitars, a saxophone and trumpet, bass, keyboards and drums, all men. Two songs from Kaputt follow the opener: “Savage Night at the Opera” and “Downtown.” The band manages to incorporate elements other than live instrumentation and still seem entirely present. Pre-recorded loops and digital effects play a significant role, but not at the expense of the performance; in fact, these elements enhance the sense that tonight’s performance is unique. The combination of live and digital sounds builds on the structure of each song, as if the band were discovering new possibilities right there on stage.

For the most part, the band reserves more elaborate arrangements for the Kaputt songs. However, a late-set rendition of “Libby’s First Sunrise,” from 2009′s Trouble in Dreams, provides an opportunity to stretch. Tonight’s version adds a driving bass line—not a drastic change, but still enough to make the song sound like a Kaputt outtake. Significantly, the change leaves the song’s structure untouched. The performance tonight reveals an elasticity in Bejar’s music, at least in terms of arrangement. Given how well-constructed Bejar’s songs are, and how cohesive each individual album is, this quality might not be readily apparent. Only in the progression from album to album is Bejar’s fluidity as a musician revealed.

The reissue of Destroyer’s Rubies speaks to this fact. The album is available tonight at the merch table, a 2xLP set pressed on white vinyl. It features an extended bonus track: an instrumental piece composed in 2006 by Vancouver’s Scott Morgen under the moniker Loscil. This ambient composition appears on the third side, an odd move. The Kaputt vinyl release also adjusts the album’s original sequence, but the added material, “The Laziest River,” seems a natural fit. The insertion is more drastic on Rubies, a significant revision of the original, now-familiar album. Listeners, of course, have the choice of skipping to side 4 and hearing the album in its original sequence. Still, it’s a revelation: The added track is contemporary with Rubies, which suggests Bejar was long preparing the change in stylistic direction he took with Kaputt.

For tonight, the live renditions of songs from Rubies remain faithful to the album versions. Touring on the reissue, and building on the success of Kaputt, Bejar has the chance to give Rubies the victory lap it deserves. Each song is anthemic, and the audience knows every word, taking particular joy in repeating the most memorable lines: “When I’m at war I insist on slaughter.”

The crowd greets the encore with similar enthusiasm. It consists of two songs that bookend Destroyer’s career up to this moment. Called back to the stage, the band launches into “Temple,” from 2000’s Thief the show concludes with Kaputt’s “Bay of Pigs.” The musicians use everything at their disposal. Loops are cued, horns wind through effects pedals, and the already full sound grows larger even as the individual parts remain distinct. The crowd is too swept up in the music to sing along. The song builds to a climax and the show ends, an impressive synthesis of Destroyer’s different styles.


Marshall Yarbrough has written about music for The Brooklyn Rail, Rain Taxi, and Flagpole magazine. He lives in Brooklyn. More from this author →