Saturday, April 26, 2008

Destroyer--The Black Cat, Washington, DC

Never bereft of a muse, Dan Bejar, and his band Destroyer were in town this past weekend. As I headed over to the Black Cat I saw dueling cyclones jackknifing in the street. Talk about a coincidence. A few people I know who used to live in DC have asked if I've had any run-ins with a somewhat legendary vagrant, who used to spend his days in front of the venue shouting, "Black Cat, Black Cat, Black Cat, little change for the homeless?, Black Cat." In my two visits I have yet to see this guy. Sadly, he may have passed.

I have to say, the staff that mans the door at the Black Cat are extremely nice and accommodating. What a nice change of pace from those quasi-Outfit hoodlums that check IDs at the Metro.

Canadian musician Andre Ethier was opening the show. I clarify "musician" because there is an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers that shares the same name. Ethier was the lead singer for the Canadian indie band the Deadly Snakes but also has a couple solo albums under his belt. He was okay. He played very vocal-heavy folk songs that seemed pretty appropriate for a Destroyer-opener. I didn't pay as much attention to him as I should have; I spent most of the time by the right-side bar having drinks and conversation. Over the course of his set, I heard people compare him both glowingly and despairingly to Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bill Callahan, and even Pete Yorn. He reminded me of Raul Mondesi.

(While this Andre Ethier was trying to keep everyone's attention, the other Andre Ethier was going 1-4, with an RBI and walk, in the Dodgers' 8-7 win over the Colorado Rockies. Not too shabby. However, he did leave four people on base. Thought you'd want to know.)

Everyone always wants to compare to Dan Bejar to some iconic performer of years past. So without further ado: Dan Bejar...he's almost a modern day Lou Reed, with a little bit of Bowie and Bozo the Clown mixed in. Like others, I was a bit late to the party and began to see the Destroyer light not long after Destroyer's Rubies came out in early 2006. I saw a few pictures from his Chicago performance at Logan Square Auditorium last week and he really reigned in the hair for the DC crowd. He was also wearing a flannel shirt that I used to own during my high school days when I was rather superunknown. The band opened with "Rubies" from the aforementioned 2006 release which was great, but sadly, shut the door on Rubies for the evening. The band mostly focused on their latest album Trouble in Dreams. Little known fact about Trouble in Dreams, I was supposed to review it last month for this site. And I was all set to give it a "Good" rating but when it came down to transcribing that to an actual review, I was completely dumbstruck. How does anyone review a Destroyer record? The lyrics (and music) are completely undecipherable. Juxtapose that with Bejar's distinctive voice and you're usually left with something organic and completely unclassifiable--which is why I think I love Destroyer in the first place. (I actually did turn in a final review of the album and I simply stated that I thought it was good and then just proceeded to list a bunch of things in my apartment. Needless to say, the review was never posted.)

First up off the new album was "Dark Leaves Form a Thread" which is most notable for a funky piano solo that's straight from an old Peanuts cartoon. Next came "Rivers" which might be my favorite track on Trouble in Dreams. Right before I moved to DC, we had a bit of a going away get-together for my last weekend in Chicago. My only caveat for the party was that I got to make the playlist (good news for me, trouble for everyone else.) After some blood, sweat, and tears I finally had the perfect came in at 17.5 hours. Convinced that was excessive, I decided to cut it back the best I could and leave only the essentials. I eventually whittled it down to 16.8 hours of carefully selected tunes. That was the final cut, nothing else could possible be eliminated. So why am I telling you this? Because "Rivers" was the very last song to get the axe. This was not an easy decision. After seeing Destroyer play it live (they absolutely shredded it), I really wish I had left it on there. The lyrics could have served for a great conversation piece. (Even without "Rivers" the playlist was incredible. People in Chicago are still talking about it.)

Destroyer ended up playing nearly 75% of the new album, although to my recollection, they inexplicably did not play "Blue Flower/Blue Flame". Scattered into the set was a song about peacocks, a few "la, la, la's", plenty of "na na na na na's" and even a couple "la la la-la-la's". There were also some snaps, claps, whistles, and rattles thrown in for good measure. They bid farewell to the 3/4 filled Black Cat with "Hey, Snow White" from This Night. If anything was disappointing, it was that they only played for about an hour and 20 minutes. For someone with such a large catalog, you would think they could have squeezed out a few more songs. Dan probably wanted to finish up early so he could go backstage and pen an album. That's not to say anything about the night was a letdown. Bejar was fantastic, the band was fantastic, and I was left with a fantastic feeling of wanting more.

Off subject, but the very next day I finally ventured out to find a record store. Up the beaten path on 18th Street is a fantastic place called Crooked Beat Records. Any respectable DC denizen probably already knows this establishment but I wanted to aptly stress my satisfaction. They have a great selection of CD's and vinyl. They really support the local bands, as they're all lumped together in their own "DC" section. The two guys that happened to be working were extremely nice and helpful. When I told one of them I recently moved from Chicago, he mentioned that Chicago and San Francisco are the two places that still really support independent record stores in the digital torrent age. First off, this made me proud of Chicago. Second of all, I was reminded of the slow extinction of independent record stores. I am no martyr...I have burned, ripped, and downloaded my fair share of music. But I also do my best to fight the good fight and trek over to the mom and pops to purchase music on a more than frequent basis. I know a lot of people listening to "indie" music are young and can't afford to buy every single album that is constantly being shoved down their throats by the respective peddlers. I understand and respect that. I've been there. Wait, I am there. And I do think it's better to download or burn an album without paying than to not listen at all. I truly believe that. But if I really love an album, having its contents on my computer alone doesn't provide me with the intimate connection that everyone has with their favorite records. I need something tangible and fixed, and I prefer to have it in the manner intended by the artist. I bristle at the thought of our generation growing old and passing off their music collection to their offspring by handing down their hard drive. So if time and finances are remotely plentiful, head over to Crooked Beat or Reckless or Groovin' High or whatever neighborhood store is nearby and explore some music. If you haven't already, perhaps give Rubies a try, maybe even catch a Destroyer concert, and hold your head high as you tell all your friends you think Dan Bejar is our generation's Bob Dylan.



Matt said...

Could you post your playlist from your party?

Alex said...

Funny you ask, I was going to post it in the comments but I think I have eliminated it from my itunes. I will keep searching for it. Just imagine a really awesome song in your head....that song was on it.

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