Destroyer plays epic set at The Church

For Philly’s die-hard fans of Canadian indie rock, seeing Destroyer at the First Unitarian Church Sanctuary has got to be about as close to heaven as you can get without actually crossing the border into Vancouver. And he delivered his sermon last night with an intimate, career-spanning solo set.

For all intents and purposes, Dan Bejar is Destroyer. And that couldn’t have been more apparent last night. The frontman (who also used to be in New Pornographers and formed Swan Lake with members of Frog Eyes and Wolf Parade) has been writing and releasing under the Destroyer moniker since 2000. His most recent full album effort, 2008’s Trouble in Dreams, continues the full orchestration and beautifully produced sound he nearly perfected on Destroyer’s Rubies in 2006. Fresh off a performance with fellow Merge Records’ acts at XX Merge, Bejar’s making a few East Coast stops in support of his upcoming 12”, Bay of Pigs set for release on Aug. 18.

But none of those lush, complicated orchestrations were realized last night. Instead, Bejar, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, showed off his songs in their rawest forms, letting his songwriting and vocal work speak for themselves. And although some of the songs fell short – most notably the slowed down “European Oils,” where you could almost hear the crowd humming the piano fills and guitar solo – it made for a more personal and unique show.

Destroyer was supported by Iran, a collaboration-heavy group including Peter Hoffman of The Mendoza Line and the instantly recognizable Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio fame. Except, Malone wasn’t there last night (despite R5 and company promoting the hell out of his involvement in the band). Maybe it has something to do with TVotR’s current European tour.

The group was clearly freaked to be playing to a crowd seated in church pews about 20 feet away from the stage, despite opening their set with a short Jesus Christ Superstar cover. It didn’t help that lead singer Aaron Aites spent most of the set sitting in a folding chair on stage – doing little to raise the overall energy level. The band’s live sound was surprisingly conventional, given the more experimental sounds of its album efforts. Most of the edgier noise came at the end of relatively straightforward – albeit pedal and effects heavy – rock songs.

Iran killed the mood a bit by opening with a full band, especially once it was clear Destroyer would be playing a solo set. But, FUC’s sanctuary was a perfect place for Bejar’s set. Plus, anything beats that sweltering basement in the summertime. His last Philadelphia stop was at the North Star a little over a year ago, and his mellow performance last night would have been out of place there.

Destroyer’s Bay of Pigs promises the band’s “first foray into the ambient disco market” with the 13-minute-plus title track, according to Merge’s preview. Obviously, Bejar didn’t play any ambient disco last night, which was for the best. Fans called out for heavier Destroyer songs he admitted just wouldn’t work with just an acoustic guitar.

But he did play songs from across his career, ending his encore with the Destroyer/New Pornographers song, “Streets of Fire,” which he said he wrote in 1993. And he played several songs off Trouble in Dreams – a reminder of just how much he adds to his songs in the studio. Last night’s stripped down set was great, and an off-the-wall 12” may keep fans at bay for the summer, but a full-length return to form with the whole Destroyer lineup is already long overdue.