Getting absolutely destroyed at the Sinclair
Indie band celebrates latest album in Cambridge
I got a lot of weird looks when I told people what concert I was reviewing, so let me clear one thing up right away: Destroyer is not, in fact, a heavy metal band. The Canadian group borders more on chill indie rock, though perhaps the intensity is not in their sound but in their lyrics. Since their formation in 1995, Destroyer has put out a substantial 12 albums, the latest of which was their 2020 record Have We Met. Over the course of these albums, the band has developed a style marked by unconventional artistic choices, enigmatic lyrics, and dedication to a common theme in each record. In light of their new release, the band embarked on an international tour including a stop at the Sinclair in Cambridge.
Nap Eyes, the scheduled opener for the show, was unfortunately unable to perform. Instead, Destroyer’s bassist sat in front of a microphone and strummed a few relaxed, folk-influenced tunes on an acoustic guitar. His vocals were light and breathy with a hint of an unidentifiable accent, punctuated by occasional whistling or instrumental intervals. While very simple, the songs had a strong beat and beachy feel that put everyone in a good mood before the main act.
The other members of Destroyer joined their bassist onstage to perform a number of their latest songs, interspersed with a few of their older pieces. Between the bass, electric guitars, keyboards, drums, trumpets, and tambourine, the group produced a complex psychedelic sound. Echoing, drawn-out guitar notes played a big part in most of the songs, contributing to the dreamy mood. One member, specializing in playing one of his several trumpets for the entire show, electronically adjusted the reverb in his microphone to transform the familiar sound of the instrument into abstract, discordant tones. Though the majority of the music was on the slower side, the band did showcase their versatility through a range of styles. There were songs that featured energetic guitar solos like many rock songs, while others were funky, upbeat, and catchy like the New Wave music of the 70s and 80s. In a couple songs the pace and volume crescendoed until it reached a peak and the band suddenly ceased playing, creating a wave of silence that crashed over the audience in shocking contrast to the intensity of sound seconds before. Before their last number, Destroyer’s trumpet player performed a minutes-long, abstract interlude. Screeching, dissonant notes built tension in the venue indefinitely with every audience member watching and waiting for another song to begin.
The lead singer himself was just as eccentric as the trumpet solo. Sporting long, unruly curls and an expression that never seemed to change, it was hard to tear my eyes away from him. At first I was concerned he was somehow unwell; he never smiled, he closed his eyes while he sang, he constantly leaned on a microphone stand for support, and every moment he didn’t spend singing he spent kneeling and taking a drink. But by the end of the concert, the vocals became more fervent even if his manner didn’t change, and I became convinced that this was simply a part of the personality that makes Destroyer unique. His voice differed from a lot of indie bands today — slightly nasally, quavering, and with an accent that was hard to place, it was reminiscent of the vocals of classic rock bands such as The Clash. The vocals were unhurried and bordered on speaking, almost as if the singer was reciting poetry; and, in fact, in the middle of the concert, he read a poem with a subtle melody to slow music played by the rest of the band. Everything about the vocals drew attention to the words they contained, which were cryptic and metaphorical. When I wasn’t pondering the lyrics, Destroyer’s music put me in such a reflective state that I found my mind wandering.
Destroyer’s lyrics, as well as some of the music and especially the trumpet solo, embodied a deep sense of dread that felt all too familiar. Destroyer is a band that has been around for a while, and the recent Have We Met album was actually first conceived before the turn of the century as a response to Y2K. Yet with issues from climate change to epidemics plaguing the minds of the modern audience, the music seemed just as suited for 2020 as it was for 2000. Behind the mellow indie melodies, Destroyer’s music intermittently elicited thoughts of impending doom and drew on fears of what the world might be like in the future. Perhaps from an entertainment standpoint, nothing about this concert stood out, and some things — like the trumpet solo — even seemed a little weird. But all things considered, it seemed like a work of art worth contemplating, to feel connected to the past and also to dwell on the future.