A few years ago I read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One, and I found the chapter on Dylan’s approach to live performances to be pretty polarizing stuff. Dylan discusses the boredom and monotony that comes with performing the same songs every night. On his 1987 tour, Dylan opted to change his live shows to a more organic experience, and he’s hasn’t altered his live show methodology since. Instead of giving the fans what they what, Bob and his ever-changing band take Dylan standards and flip them on their head. Some tours have interpreted his songs within the style of blues while other times his touring band can resemble a bluegrass outfit. I’ve seen Dylan perform twice, and during both shows I had the same guessing game experience where half the time I wasn’t quite sure what song he was performing. It doesn’t help that his voice is almost unintelligible these days.
I personally enjoy hearing classics through a new spectrum, but many people don’t. On the way out of both Dylan experiences I heard frustrated fans saying things like “I didn’t recognize any songs!” or “I just wanted to hear ‘Rainy Day Woman.'” As an avid listener to the Opie and Anthony radio show, I’ve also heard the duo complain of their own experiences over the years at concerts where the bands they saw either made their hits unrecognizable or didn’t play them at all. While I enjoy watching an artist I respect display their ability to rethink a standard, I also can understand the irritation of a fan shelling out money only to leave befuddled.
Yesterday I saw Destroyer for the third time in my life, and each of my experiences have been similar to the Dylan shows I’ve attended. I first saw Dan Bejar’s music project 10 years ago at a SXSW showcase. During that show he took his troubadour classics and soaked them in distortion. A few years later I saw him again, this time with a full band that gave his melodies an almost proggy appeal. Last night he came out to the stage alone with only an acoustic guitar in his hand. It was certainly the closest any Destroyer show has come to resembling what can be heard on his albums, but even with his familiar approach, he played with his classics, flipping them on a dime from a whispering voice to his distinctive, nasally shout. And instead of playing his simple, acoustic songs, much of the tunes performed were taken from his slow jazz masterpiece Kaputt.
The intimacy of the night made it my favorite Destroyer performance yet. The crowd seemed like a batch of hardcore fans, and their respect for Bejar’s music was evident throughout. I didn’t hear a peep between songs and when each song became familiar, you could hear a choir of whispering voices, singing along with Bejar as he took another classic and twisted it for his own pleasure (and ours).
Here’s a clip from the show of him performing “To the Heart of the Sun On the Back of Vultures, I’ll Go.” I know its low quality, but you can get a taste of his playful performance: