Breaking news: local college indie head likes Mac DeMarco.
To be honest, I spent a lot of time trying to avoid the hype surrounding the indie rock icon. When I started college a couple years ago, all I ever heard were my classmates discussing his “slacker rock” and “stoner rock” style. Who is this Mac DeMarco guy anyway? I didn’t know nor did I really care.
Only after Mac DeMarco’s recent headlining show at the Skyline Stage at the Mann Center Sept. 24 did I finally understand what all the hullabaloo is about.
Opening act The Garden put on a fun set, performing songs from their most recent album, “Haha,” as well as older tracks. The band consists of twin brothers Fletcher and Wyatt Shears, who started making music together when they were 19 years old. It seemed like audience members who arrived early enough to see the set were pleasantly surprised by the group’s indie rock stylings.
Once the last traces of sunlight had fully dissipated from the night sky, the stage lights dimmed and “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin began to play through the loudspeakers. Immediately, fans began to frenzy. Those meandering around the back tents started racing to to the stage like moths to a flame.
DeMarco appeared in classic Mac attire: slacks, pocket t-shirt and a baseball cap (“bum chic,” if you will). He kicked things off with “On the Level,” one of the songs off his new record “This Old Dog” (released in May). The record featured more synths and electronic drum production than his previous releases. It was cool to see the audience become totally mesmerized on a few of the more psychedelic songs, such as “On the Level,” “For the First Time” and “Moonlight on the River.”
So what exactly makes a Mac DeMarco show so praiseworthy? I was asking myself the same question the past couple of years, but it became clear to me at the concert that it’s not just about the music (which is really solid, by the way); it’s all the entertaining jokes and antics he gets into onstage. Almost between every song, DeMarco addressed the audience, telling funny stories or just being a goof. He made several comments about getting cheesesteaks after the show, but would not reveal which particular sandwich shop we could find him at.
On older hits such as “Salad Days,” “Cooking Up Something Good” and “Ode to Viceroy,” it was a true delight to just stand back and watch the crowd. Everyone was having a great time, dancing around clumsily in their own personal “bum chic” attire.
There were a lot of songs I had never heard before that night, and one that stood out to me in particular was “No Other Heart,” off his 2015 record, “Another One.” I think it might just be my new favorite Mac DeMarco song.
At one point in the set, someone started a “daddy” chant, and DeMarco responded by coaxing the crowd into a “mommy” chant instead. It lasted for a lot longer than it needed to; it was very goofy. Later, he picked up a deck of cards and offered to show us a card trick. He then threw them into the crowd and said it was 52 Card Pickup. The guy is a real joker, I’ll tell you.
After “Ode to Viceroy,” DeMarco whipped out the craziest cover of Vanessa’s Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” I’ve ever heard. I cannot tell you how long it was, but my best guess is at least 15 minutes. Maybe 20. On top of that, the only lyrics he knew were “Makin’ my way downtown.” He repeated that line over and over, making the audience roar with laughter. After a few minutes it got old, but then a few minutes later it got funny again. It continued on like that, where just when you thought it would end he kept going and it was hilarious all over again.
Somehow that ridiculous cover finally ended, but it wasn’t the last ludicrous cover he performed that night. Not by a long shot. I’ll get to that in just a couple paragraphs, so stick around.
For one of DeMarco’s more popular numbers, “Freaking Out the Neighborhood,” he brought a fan from the audience up onstage to play guitar. This gave him free reign to walk around the stage with the microphone and really ham it up. The dude who he brought up to play killed it; at least I didn’t detect any mistakes.
Towards the end of the set, he played two of his best songs: “Chamber of Reflection” and “Moonlight on the River.” Both are groovy psychedelic numbers, heavy on the synths and jangly guitars. The last few minutes of “Moonlight on the River” feature some crazy guitar effects. It was a beautiful shoegazey mess of delays and reverbs that made it sound like we were traveling through outer space. To cap off the set, he played “Still Together,” off his 2012 record “2.”
Somewhere in the middle of the song, he changed gears and went into a string of covers. It started with Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil,” which he played for a couple minutes before transitioning into other Van Halen songs such as “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” and “Hot for Teacher.” Somehow it became a stream-of-consciousness type of medley, where he seemingly just would start playing whatever came to his mind. Some I didn’t recognize, but I realized he wasn’t doing strictly Van Halen covers anymore when he kicked out “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.
It was a wild way to end a show and the crowd was clamoring for more by the time he exited the stage. However, all the stage lights came on, which many fans understood as the venue’s cue for everyone to leave. Despite all of this, many people lingered and continued to chant.
Just then, I experienced something incredible. I saw a true encore for the first time in my life, and I’ve seen hundreds of shows.
DeMarco appealed to the fans’ pleas and came back out without his backing band. He told everyone to take a seat in the grass, as he sat with his guitar on the edge of the stage. Once everyone was on the ground and relaxed, he played one final song: “Watching Him Fade Away,” off “This Old Dog.”
It was the perfect end to the concert, and the perfect concert to end the summer. Classes started for me the next morning, but it didn’t matter because for that magical night in Fairmount Park, we were all in a state of indie-rock euphoria.
Photograph courtesy of Natasha Hajo for The Triangle