We all have that one relative: the scruffy-looking type who keeps to themselves at family gatherings and clearly doesn’t want to be there. His hair wild, eyes lowered, Destroyer’s frontman Dan Bejar appeared to headline the second night of the annual FRZN Fest embodying this character. He took frequent sips of his beer as he crooned lyrics that sounded like poetry but felt like the deep prophecies an uncle absentmindedly drones on about at the dinner table.
Much like this uncle, with his recycled stories derived from a lifetime of experiences, Bejar and his band were slightly worn down but still transfixing and cohesive enough to keep me hypnotized by the rock group’s jams.
The Canadian band followed other rock groups, Okey Dokey and Mega Bog, at High Noon Saloon this past Friday. They concluded the night of quiet-voiced, dreamy rock artists. All three bands showcased newer music; High Noon Marketing Manager Justin Kibbel said “One of the main goals behind FRZN Fest is using it as a platform to showcase some amazing emerging artists.” This year’s lineup featured a diverse group that included hip-hop artist Astronautalis, Spanish indie rock group Hinds and synth-pop band Poliça, among several others.
Destroyer started their set with “Sky’s Grey,” the opening track of their newest album, ken. Bejar’s deep, throaty vocals blended together with the romantic, psychedelic tones of the instruments. The echoey, ballad-like tune eased the audience into the set, getting them ready with a slow start before the head-banging that would ensue for the remainder of the songs.
“Sky’s Grey” melted into “In the Morning,” a song to dance to when energizing yourself at the start of the day. There were undeniable hints of The Smiths — Bejar’s troubled drawl mirrored the unvarying, dazed voice of Morrissey, and the band’s rhythms were similar to many of those that came from The Smith’s 1980s releases. These same vibes continued into their next song, “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” another track off the new album.
Destroyer incorporated rapid synth beats into their first song — which appear on several tracks on ken — making it seem as though they are following bands such as Bon Iver and The National, who have experimented with synth in their newer works. Their music carries an upbeat tone while the dreary voices of the singers contrast it with cynical lyrics.
They interspersed some older songs, including the title track off their 2011 release Kaputt and “Times Square” from their 2015 album Poison Season, which was my personal favorite of the night. This pleased the crowd, many of whom seemed to be fans of Bejar for the two decades he has been prominent.
Each song ended with epic crashes of drums and scratches on guitar strings, the sounds swelling and following along with the remarkable trumpeter’s siren calls, giving the rock vibes a softer, jazzier feel.
Beginning as a solo project in the mid-nineties, it’s understandable why Bejar appeared tired, like he wanted nothing to do with performing. This wasn’t hidden — he avoided making eye contact with the crowd as much as possible and spoke few words throughout the set beyond “thanks.” His band, though, grooved and smiled at one another as they created their complex, layered rhythms. Perhaps it was their attitudes, the lack of useless talking or the way the music had me ceaselessly swaying to the beat that made me feel satisfied and completely immersed in Destroyer’s performance — their haunting vocals and bouncing rhythms made the ringing in my ears very well worth it.
For the first time in their seven years of hosting the winter festival, they hosted shows in two venues, expanding beyond just High Noon Saloon to hold performances at the Majestic Theater as well.
“We've always talked about expanding the festival, but up until this year that would've been difficult logistically,” Kibbel said. “I think it has allowed us to get more eyes on the festival and start to let it grow. There's always worry about over-saturation and just having too much going on, but we tried to be conscious in our booking and not overlap genres too much.”
When asked whether FRZN Fest would be brought back next year, Kibbel replied with “of course.” Organizers will select more new artists to achieve what Kibbel said are some goals: getting more musicians in Madison and “break[ing] up the monotony of winter in Wisconsin.”