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A Destroyer concert, such as Friday's at the Black Cat, is probably a lot like a Destroyer practice. The Vancouver quintet, led by sometimes New Pornographer Dan Bejar, will show just a hint of enthusiasm while playing one of its dramatic, indie-rock epics, then mill around for about a minute to re-tune and decide what to play next. The band members often play with their backs to the audience -- forget about any sort of interaction -- and after about an hour it's all over. It certainly doesn't make for the most traditionally exciting performance, but the band's songs are filled with enough clever wordplay and art-rock bombast to more than make up for any lack of visual sizzle.
The bulk of the set was culled from "Trouble in Dreams," the ninth Destroyer album of sweeping, tastefully overblown songs that cement Bejar's status as one of rock's most reliably great songwriters. Songs like "Dark Leaves From a Thread" and "My Favorite Year" were as idiosyncratic as they were iconoclastic, their pop charms obscured by Bejar's nasal chirp of a voice and mysterious lyrics that leave you wondering if he's brilliant or putting one over on everyone -- "Susan, the truth is, sipping sherry branded by moonlight's just a game people are playing tonight. Seriously, terror advances."
Drummer Fisher Rose helped keep things from getting bogged down in proggy excess as his strong, regimented pounding added some welcome edge throughout. "Hey, Snow White" and "Self Portrait With Thing" were both massive in sound and scope. "Tonight is not your night!" Bejar shrieked on the latter. It was his night on Friday, though. At least as much as it ever is.
-- David Malitz
Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra
When the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra paid tribute to Quincy Jones at the Voice of America Auditorium on Saturday night, conductor David Baker took obvious delight in saluting his close friend and former bandleader, annotating the program with a string of amusing anecdotes.
For all the laughter and asides, though, Baker was clearly eager to keep the focus on Jones's musical genius and jazz legacy, a goal supported by the ensemble's consistently enjoyable and often revealing performances. Almost exclusively devoted to pieces composed or arranged by Jones, the program was distinguished by a series of mood-shifting orchestral settings, variously inspired by gorgeous ballads ("Jessica's Day" and "Grace") and an expansive signature theme ("Quintessence"), a classic soul jazz tune ("Moanin' ") and, ultimately, a flag-waving send-off ("Air Mail Special").
The arrangements offered numerous reminders of Jones's subtle and sometimes engagingly light-handed touch -- the twin piccolos on the "Soul Bossa Nova" for example -- as well as his gift for orchestrating romantic rhapsodies and sustaining swing and funk grooves with flair. A trumpeter himself, Jones doubtless would have enjoyed hearing the brass section, featuring gifted soloists Kenny Rittenhouse and Tom Williams, though each division of the ensemble was well represented, with pianist Tony Nalker and reedmen Charlie Young and Lyle Link making particularly impressive contributions.
The concert opened with veteran tenor saxophonist Jacques Johnson leading the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra though a collection of standards that showcased a lot of budding talent, including the very promising vocalist and guitarist Wendy Eisenberg.
-- Mike Joyce