It was a packed house on Friday at The Crocodile as Destroyer, also known as Dan Bejar of the New Pornographers and his 8-piece orchestra, were in town, fresh off the release of their ninth studio album, Kaputt. Though Bejar is who put the SOLD OUT sign on the ticket office window, it was not a night to straggle in late to catch only the headliner; local tropical surf rockers Yuni In Taxco, who also recently released a new record, would be leading things off, followed by the Philadelphia indie soul of The War on Drugs, whose much-anticipated follow up to 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues will be released this fall.
The crowd was surprisingly thin when local four-piece Yuni In Taxco took the stage to lead off the evening. The quartet was pleasingly laid back and untheatrical on stage, coming off as anti-rock stars as they delighted the early-showers with reverberating guitar-centered tropical indie rock. At times some of their jams meandered and were in danger of spinning out of orbit, especially when keyboards and effects were more prominently featured, but for the most part they were locked into a delightful kind of retro indie surf that sounded like it come of come straight out of the 50s, while at the same time seeming fresh and modern.
Philadelphia band The War On Drugs were next and endured some technical problems early. Denim-clad front man Adam Granduciel abruptly cut off their second a song a minute in to express his frustrations to the sound man, and my feelings toward the band became skeptical, perhaps unfairly. The rest of their set completely rocked me out of this mindset though, and Granduciel ended up coming off as a sincere, well-meaning guy, which is saying something considering the sub par first impression. The War on Drugs had a soulfulness that was surprising, and which started and ended with the unmistakeably Philadelphian voice of Granduciel, which brought to mind Tom Petty more than anyone, but also Bob Dylan at times. The band was tight and despite only having released two EPs and a single full-length, it was easy to tell they had been together for a long time. It was hard for me to believe it when Granduciel announced toward the end of the set that it was only their drummer’s third show with the band.
By the time Destroyer came on — all nine of them — The Crocodile was packed; room to shuffle up front was limited, there wasn’t an inch of space on the rail of the balcony, and fans were standing on the benches lining the venue to get a better look at Bejar and company.
I have to say that I’ve never been overly familiar with Destroyer, and after hearing a few songs off of Kaputt and subsequently checking out a few more from previous releases, I was intrigued more than anything. It would be easy to call their music “boring,” as Bejar’s near-mumbling voice is so blasé that it barely seemed to have the energy to escape his lungs. His presence on stage was no different. Wearing a black leather jacket, he was indifferent, languid in his motions, and totally comfortable behind the mic; he was going to do things his way and at his pace, and didn’t care what anybody thought. By contrast, the rest of the band were fairly active, especially the prominently-featured saxophonist and trumpet-player.
What surprised me more than anything was the intensity and diversity of Destroyer’s fans. A few groups of young people were dancing like crazy up front, couples were swaying to Bejar’s melodious vocals, stoic solo attendees stood with their arms crossed, refusing to let anyone through as they recorded entire songs on their iPhones, and countless others danced along or hung in the back where it was safe to wield a cocktail. To a newcomer to Destroyer’s music like myself, a lot of the songs sounded similar, probably a result of Bejar’s distinctive and for the most part unwavering style. The show certainly had its moments though, and it wasn’t hard at all to see how so many could be such avid fans of the band. Bejar is a unique talent and Destroyer’s songs, while having a certain melancholy air about them – again, mainly due to Bejar’s voice, as well as the expansiveness created by the trumpet, which was run through a variety of reverb effects – are at the same time interminably catchy and danceable, making for a more than enjoyable live show for fans of the band.
Here’s the setlist:
It’s Gonna Take
Painter In Your Pocket
Song For America