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LIVE REPORT: Destroyer
Mic Wright , December 17th, 2013 05:55

Mic Wright finds a slightly tired-sounding Dan Bejar in need of a break at his recent Bush Hall show

One man. One guitar. One slightly underwhelmed audience.

The ideal when a musician slings an acoustic guitar onto their shoulder and stalks up to the mic is hushed revery. Dan Bejar, aka Destroyer, achieves that to some extent at Bush Hall. There's no doubt the guy has songwriting chops and the voice required to make hairs stand to attention on the back of your neck and your heart pick up some polyrhythmic new beat but his best tunes have more than a strummed acoustic to push them forward.

I can't help but feel it's a bad sign when fans are turning to each other and saying: "Have you heard one you know yet?" The challenge with this beautifully intimate gig is just that: Bejar is not minded to play for the audience. He is playing for himself, and the most enraptured fans rush along after him. It's not to say he is in any way bad. He is prodigiously talented but he isn't all that engaging.

It's not that Destroyer's most recent EP, Five Spanish Songs, isn't great, it's simply that it is a studied move backwards. Rather than continuing on his path of sonic experimentation, Bejar has gone back to the Dylan basics, one man, one guitar. The solo acoustic performance isn't without its merits but what some see as laid back, I see as a guy phoning it in somewhat. The songs are good, the voice is good, but the performance would, at points, shame a Tube busker. But then buskers don't have a pre-paying audience.

Part of the problem is that Bejar's last full-length album, Kaputt, was so textured, so full of excitement bubbling under. His voice has a great range and he can leap effortlessly from full of projection to fragmented whispers and back again. The drama of his voice, though, is well-served by the drama of his production. What can be arresting simplicity – something this show occasionally attains – also collapses into tedium at various points.

Songs such as 'Chinatown' lose some intrinsic filth and flirt when their saxophone lines are untimely ripped from them. That said, the delicious 'Don't Become The Thing You Hated' emerges fully-formed from just guitar and vocals, shaking and as bloody as its studio incarnation.

The gig is Destroyer's last show for a little while and that may well be a good thing. While it is charming to have each song introduced with a little bit of context, it still feels like Bejar is somewhat tired. Tired of playing the Destroyer discography and tired of the furniture that he has built around the project. Stripping it back obviously made for a cheaper, simpler show for him but for many in the audience it also seemed to make for a sliver of disappointment. Bejar is brilliant, and his back catalogue a mine of marvellous songwriting but he seemed unwilling to polish up many of those gems at Bush Hall. He's a great performer but one definitely in need of that break.