Concert Review: Been There, Done Mac


with James Ferraro and The Courtneys

@ Malkin Bowl

May 27, 2016.

Watching Mac on Friday night was disappointingly nostalgic, and even at some points predictable. What held my attention was not his music, but his genuine, playful demeanor and effortless performance style. Looking around at the young crowd members, I couldn’t help feeling that enjoying Mac’s sound and even being at this concert had lost its edge– I felt old, and I’m 21.  

For the last few years, Mac DeMarco has become an entrenched part of the West Coast alt-indie rebellious subculture (now arguably ‘mainstream’). “Ode to Viceroy” and “Salad Days” are reminiscent of an amalgamation of angst, weird Facebook, cigarette addiction, ballcaps, and memes. Mac’s combination of charm, laidback style, talent, wild behaviour has been this indie ‘cool’ formula for a while now, worthy of “starter pack” and “listens to ‘_____’ once” memes.  Much of his cult fan base amaturely embodies these signifiers, leading onlookers and critics alike to conclude that being in his very presence would somehow cause this coolness to rub off.

He’s become mainstream enough that both going and not going to his concert when he comes to town could be considered faux pas. Despite his apparent mainstreaming, Mac’s presence in the music industry (especially as a Canadian) continues to  inspire and influence an offspring of lo-fi dreamy pop and indie rock acts across the country and beyond. Though some of these artists are creating a sort of feedback loop of his sound, some are taking it in completely unique and new directions. So it wasn’t surprising that the Malkin Bowl was packed for his show on Friday.

It was Mac DeMarco’s Vancouver fans who brought the weirdo rowdy-hype, in spite of the sporadic rainstorm and the show’s early start time. DeMarco was bashful and reserved. The crowd was made up primarily of tweens, teens and 20-somethings (adorned in unique ballcaps), with a handful of moms and 30-somethings sprinkled throughout the soggy, muddy Malkin Bowl field. Standing in line for Mac DeMarco is sort of like walking through an old, dirty house of mirrors– everyone looks the same with minor, yet striking differences. It’s like the distinction between a ballcap with a cherry emoji vs. one with a peach emoji.

Vancouver’s local lo-fi “sun drenched flying nun influenced pop” queens, The Courtneys kicked off the show playing to a small but attentive crowd, alongside those waiting in line bobbing their heads along throughout their upbeat, half-hour set. It was after 7pm when James Ferraro meekly walked up to the table on the far left side of the stage where his taped-up macbook and turntables were set up and started performing for half an hour or so. Ferraro, originally from the Bronx, is an experimental composer/producer and is Mac’s current tour opener. His mixes are characteristically doom-filled and hypnotic, with sort of a stream-of-consciousness social commentary on US politics and pop culture. Ferraro kept his hood up and head down for the entirety of his electronic set. At times audience members would peek their heads up, suddenly recalling that someone was performing, but the feelings of indifference from both Ferraro and the crowd were seemingly mutual.

Once on stage, DeMarco sweetly grooved right into “The Way You’d Love Her” and the show’s sustained mosh pit was born, transitioning right into his fan-favourite “Salad Days.” During Mac’s “Ode to Viceroy” a number of fans lit up in tribute, and later he busted out Rock and Roll Night Club (2012), including its title track. Mac and the boys were sultry and smooth, engrossed in the sound and swaying sweetly with the audience. Both drummer Joe McMurray and bassist Jon Lent kept to themselves, playing and nodding along with Mac. Bassist Pierce McGarry sat this performance out, intermittently joined the boys on stage to chip in with vocals and goofball dance moves throughout the set. Alongside Mac, Andy was playful and chatty, engaging with the audience more than him, leading to moments of uncertainty as to who the frontman of the self-titled band really was. A couple of Andy’s interjections even garnered side-eye glances and smirks from Lent and DeMarco, leaving audience members (who noticed) to awkwardly sift through these sort of tense, passive exchanges between the two lead guitarists.

Though Mac’s singing was heartfelt and the band played a smooth set of crowd favourites– much of the technically beautiful music took a backseat to the (at times) frat-like, aggressive mentality and energy that seems to be at the core of DeMarco’s cult fanbase. There was a tipping point halfway through the show, when the Malkin Bowl seemed to resemble a kid’s community pool instead of a stage, with teens and tweens alike climbing up onto the stage one after another to surf back into the crowd, at times flashing and mooning the audience and Mac. Security guards were on edge and seemed more like frustrated babysitters by the end of the concert.

Once they finished their set list, Mac and the boys hung around and kept playing until DeMarco stripped down to his D.A.R.E shirt and went for a much-anticipated surf. For what felt like 10 minutes, fans aggressively and lovingly yanked at DeMarco, screaming, and even lighting up cigarettes and putting them in his mouth. Before the guys could make it off the stage, fans were already chanting for another one. Mac was back immediately with just his mom jeans hiked up real high, followed by two bright blue and yellow airdancers, finally matching the crowd’s absolutely wild energy. He embodied his stage character, and fans were going nuts. Many of them were finally getting the Mac DeMarco they had purchased $40 tickets for, and honestly, it was pretty incredible.

It was clear despite possible reservations about DeMarco’s relevance or maturity that his ingenuity and gratitude for his fan base (and not necessarily his smartass antics), paired with his sweet tunes, are what have kept his fans loyal and him touring.

Another One, Mac’s most recent mini LP was released last August and he and the band have been touring non-stop since. Until his next album comes out, whenever that may be, Mac has released the demo of “Rollin’ Like a Dummy” alongside polished covers accompanied by dreamy and unsettling music videos of James Taylor’s “I Was a Fool to Care”, and Prince’s “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” via Pitchfork this month.

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