As I watch Naomi Keyte and Mary Webb, two fine individual artists in their own right, alone on the empty stage at the Gov, just two microphones and one acoustic guitar, I can’t help but think of them as some kind of alt-folk Simon and Garfunkel or Everly Brothers duo. Although their music is far from that style, this thought is reinforced by the first song they perform, a regular cover in Naomi’s set of the Kid Sam song Two Lovers. They perform a competent set of songs mostly from Naomi’s album Melaleuca including as the penultimate song another cover with Midnight Oils’ Beds are Burning which actually somehow works amongst the originals. Their set ends with Old Pines and the applause that follows shows that it is clear that Naomi’s captivating vocals in the preceding song have won over another audience.
Dan Bejar AKA Destroyer is not exactly an outsider artist in the bracket that would include the likes of Daniel Johnson or Wesley Willis but he is certainly doing his own thing as demonstrated by a range of styles across a series of eclectic and disparate solo and collaborative recordings including his work as one of the New Pornographers in a career that has spanned more than twenty years. Initially it may not feel like the most appropriate venue at which to play during his first Australian tour for the reduced audience that are present but they are comfortably seated at tables, and are attentive and grateful to see Dan.
There’s merch signing later for the fans but that is after a short but filling set during which Dan endears himself to those present with minor but not unwelcome infrequent witticisms in-between (and during) songs and certainly doesn’t overstay his welcome during a solo set of only vocals and acoustic guitar instrumentation. Starting with a fresh untitled song with seemingly on the run, off the cuff style lyrics, he follows it with, “Thanks. I just wrote that” and you can almost believe it except that it has been played previously on this tour. He dips into his not insubstantial back catalogue and plays song after song nearly all ending abruptly as though he doesn’t quite know how to finish them once they have been written. Times Square sounds like a lo-fi Bob Dylan covering Lou Reed, in an alternate universe where his influences had not been Woody Guthrie but Bill Callahan/Smog.
The audience’s attention is broken by the appearance of a possum momentarily crawling around the rafters high above and behind Dan in amongst the lighting rig. In the break before the next song, the audience alert Dan to the marsupial’s presence (although by this time it has disappeared into the ceiling) and at first he doesn’t know how to respond to what he interprets some kind of an unusual heckle. For the next song at least, the audience are distracted, looking passed Dan into the lighting rig for another sighting of the wayward possum that does not reappear.
Later, following another new song tentatively title Key Synthesizer, he introduces an “early song… probably the third song I ever wrote” before playing the New Pornographers’ Streets of Fire. There’s a few more songs and he has played for just short of hour when the set ends with a song including a sage piece of advice repeated like a mantra (as well as being the title), Don’t Become the Thing You Hated, before he is encouragingly coaxed back for an encore he states he was going to play anyway. It is he says is “the saddest song I ever wrote”, Farrar, Straus, Giroux (Sea of Tears). The lyrics could be seen as a coincidental reference to the earlier appearance of the possum: “No man has ever hung from the rafters of a second home”.
In the lead up to the show, there was a certain expectation given Destroyer’s reputation and the audience were appreciative but let’s hope that the smaller turnout has not deterred Dan from returning again in the future whether alone or with a band.
Live review by Jason Leigh