The audience is awkwardly sparse for opener Ashley Shadow, with maybe only a dozen or so people to begin with. It fills up a little during her beautifully crafted, Americana-tinged rockers, helped along by drummer Joshua Wells (also in Destroyer) and guitarist Josh Beattie (of Frog Eyes) who appears to be morphing into Jeff Tweedy (80% looks, 20% guitar style).
It’s still far from full from Dan Bejar as the six-piece band take the stage, but the night feels loose and informal – there’s no squash up front, but space to breathe and a communal feeling of joy/relief at finally seeing the revered wordsmith over two years on from when this date was first announced. What began as a tour supporting 2020’s ‘Have We Met’ now has to also encompass this year’s ‘Labyrinthitis’, songs of the two making up most of the set.
‘It’s In Your Heart Now’ is aggressively intense as an opener, fortunately light on lyrics as they’re completely swallowed by the music, something that happens from time to time over the night. There’s a patience and nonchalance to the band that makes these complex arrangements seem naturally-occurring, Bejar’s impressionistic lyricism unspooling effortlessly. There’s precious little chat beyond perfunctory thanks, but the band are locked firmly in the zone (especially bassist John Collins who peacocks around enough for the whole band – give that man his own stage).
‘Times Square’ is followed by ‘Tinseltown Dripping in Blood’, two of the biggest crowd-pleasers that hit with precision; the former with full band exuberance and the latter in a cascade of perfect synths. ‘It Just Doesn’t Happen’ and ‘Cue Synthesizer’ are the highlights from ‘Have We Met’, before ‘It Takes a Thief’ has a full-blooded, almost punky zest. Following this, Bejar looks forlornly into his empty whisky cup, cracks another Moretti and launches into the brilliant ‘Kaputt’, the finale of which sees 6/7 of the band take a seat on the stage to get lost in JP Carter’s trumpet/effects maelstrom.
The line “Everyone’s happy to strike for more pay” from June hits the right note with the audience early on, almost bringing a wry smile from Bejar, and is about the only direct reaction from crowd or band. But there seems to be an understanding between crowd and performers, an appreciation that with songs this meticulously layered, there’s no need for any additional frills.