The Impossible Shapes
Dan Bejar told us that there’s joy in being barred from the temple, and we solemnly cupped our headphones with our hands and bobbed our heads in knowing assent. We who love the margins and the dark, forlorn corners also love Bejar, because he sings to and for us. Critics tell us his turgid, syllable-rich lyrics are devoid of meaning and we answer with a sly look and an inward satisfaction because we know better. His neo-gothic song poems are impressionistic and narratively labyrinthine; they can’t be “gotten” unless you disavow all you’ve ever known about what it means to “get.” It adds up to a music elitist’s wet dream: post-modern poetry set to music, presented in an elaborate code that means nothing more than to be an elaborate code.
Of course, being a music critic means loving shit like this despite oneself. So I was happy to drive to Bloomington, Indiana to see Bejar play live with his partners in inscrutability, Frog Eyes, who would open for Destroyer as well as serve as Bejar’s backing band. But before either performed, the audience was first treated to the Impossible Shapes, a fine Bloomington band that, were they located a few states south, would have fit in perfectly with the defunct Elephant 6 collective.
When the Impossible Shapes took the stage around 10:30 P.M. the hometown crowd surrounded the small stage with predictable homer enthusiasm, and I myself was excited to hear a few tracks off of their 2003 release We Like it Wild, a fine psych-pop record that alternately floats and rollicks as pleasingly as any other guitar-driven pop album I’ve heard recently. Unfortunately on this night the Shapes stuck to older and brand new material, save for a tight performance of the curiously titled “Naked Bullrush”. Also unfortunately, their local status gave the Shapes license to exceed the traditional opener set length, and their set dragged on for over an hour, during the last half of which I counted ceiling tiles, played blackjack on my cell phone, and counted unwashed heads in the crowd.
Frog Eyes came next, and contrary to the Impossible Shapes who formed themselves into a compact cluster on stage, the Eyes stood far apart with lead singer Carey Mercer standing in the forefront, stage right, while drummer Melanie Campbell, bassist Mike Rak and keyboardist Grayson Walker spread themselves out in the background. Mercer stood behind the mic looking nervous and reticent, and the rest of the band seemed like distant shadows. Then, all at once, the madness started. Frog Eyes is entirely Mercer’s show—he sputters and spits and spills himself in sporadic convulsions, tightening his muscles into electrified immobility each time his voice reaches a falsetto. Meanwhile, Melanie Campbell’s drumming is Meg White-esque in its simplicity, but an accessory resembling an aluminum trash can lid that hangs from her drum set lends the rhythm section a quirky accent. Meanwhile Mercer was on full-tilt throughout the entire set, his body alternately rocking, trembling and seizing up. Much of the crowd had withdrawn from stage after the Impossible Shapes’ set closed, but the barrenness only added to the spellbinding eeriness of Frog Eyes’ set.
After their set Dan Bejar—he of the black spiral locks and tattered thesaurus—joined them on the stage and performed a series of Destroyer songs that, unfortunately for me, were drawn mostly from his newer material. I haven’t heard much of the last two Destroyer albums, This Night and Your Blues, but from the sounds of the songs Bejar played he’s allowing his inner thespian more license with each new album. That wasn’t the most disappointing part of his set though; the most disappointing thing was to see Bejar conduct himself like a self-important artiste without a trace of humor. The no-humor stuff worked for Frog Eyes because of the persona-adopting nature of their songs. But Bejar’s songs are often self-conscious and self-referential, and seeing him bow dramatically at the conclusion of every song was enough to make me think twice about dropping the cash for Your Blues at the merchandise table. Still, if you’re a fan, Destroyer’s live show will surely suit you just fine—but Frog Eyes’ spastic creep show is the far better spectacle for my money.