Peter Ferris' trip to Destroyer and Mega Bog has him contemplating what actually makes a show good

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by Peter Ferris

Have you ever gone to a party and eventually realized that no one attending wanted to be there?

Even though I wasn’t at a “party” last Friday, I felt a similar vibe at the Destroyer/Mega Bog show at Underground Arts. The venue is one of my favorite in the city; it’s got a dingy, warehouse vibe, but glitzed up with beautiful artwork, a chic light display, and killer sound. I was stoked to catch Destroyer in person, an enigmatic project led by mastermind Dan Bejar. Bejar and his rotating lineup change their sound with almost every album and have made a gradual transition from charming indie pop that would fit well with early-70s Bowie to straight-up synth-pop on their newest album, Ken. Being a fan of that classic New Order sound, I’ve had no complaints with this stylistic change and though I wasn’t floored by Ken initially, I was still anxious to hear how the new tunes would sound on stage.

Opening the evening was the Seattle-native group Mega Bog, a strange jazzy project spearheaded by Erin Birgy. This was my first time ever listening to their music, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect at all. Considering the eclectic nature of Destroyer’s music, I didn’t have any clue what kind of groups they would be interested in. Unfortunately, their set was incredibly underwhelming. I could barely hear the vocals, which seemed to be the driving force behind almost all of their songs. Although Birgy’s choice of chord progressions and voicings were interesting and unorthodox, the instrumentation generally felt lifeless and devoid of any passion. Every song, with perhaps one exception, maintained a mellow timbre. Not in a dreamy way, not in a melancholic way, not in a “chill” way, but more like an “instantly forgettable” way.

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And to make matters worse, it didn’t seem like the musicians (Birgy included) were particularly interested in playing at all, and just phoning in their parts for another paycheck. The mysterious bassist did have lots of dance moves, but was the only person in the group with any stage presence. I like challenging music as much as any weirdo who spends too much time on the Internet, but I don’t see the point of watching musicians perform if they don’t seem interested in being there, or if their playing lacks feeling. I would be willing to give their studio work a fair chance, and I’m sure that being able to listen to Mega Bog in my living room would be more appealing than in an underground bar (being able to hear the vocals would be a huge plus). As for seeing them live, however, I wish I got those forty minutes back.

Despite my qualms with Mega Bog’s set, I was still looking forward to hearing Destroyer. I’m admittedly more familiar with Bejar’s earlier work, and am a huge fan of Streethawk: A Seduction and Destroyer’s Rubies. I listened to Kaputt and Ken a few times before the evening, but definitely hadn’t spent enough time with his newer albums. A majority of Destroyer’s set drew from Ken and Kaputt, along with two selections from Poison Season and one from Destroyer’s Rubies. The band was tight and sounded great, and Bejar’s rough vocals sounded great as always, but I fault myself for not being well-acquainted with their new material. They still had a dynamic sound, rounded out with woodwinds, a trumpet, and booming synths (which, from my recollection of Ken, sounded a lot better live).

If anything, I think Bejar and his band suffered from the same issue that Mega Bog did: a lack of stage presence. It felt like the band was not interested in interacting with the audience at all, and seemed much more focused on their playing. This wasn’t all bad, because the musicians were wildly talented (I was all about the random trumpet noise improvisation), but I wish that they didn’t seem so distant. Maybe if the audience wasn’t entirely dead inside, too, it would have been a different experience. And I know it’s nitpicky, but I’m still pissed they didn’t close with “Rubies.”

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Both Destroyer and Mega Bog’s sets were more like gallery presentations than rock concerts. I suppose this works for some people, but I left the venue longing for some sort of excitement, any sort of social interaction. Even when the music was good, there was too much of a disconnect between artist and audience for me to feel like this was a unique experience. If musicians aren’t passionate about being in front of a crowd, whether that passion is positive or negative, you might as well just throw on one of their albums at home.

Check out the full gallery below (Photos by Peter Ferris)

Chris DeFlitch