The Scala, October 28
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. We haven’t seen Mac DeMarco on these shores since he played The Garage back in May, and he and his band haven’t seen each other for a month while Mac’s been holed up alone writing and recording his new album ‘Salad Days’, due in April next year. Maybe that explains the communal feelings of love and togetherness filling the Scala. Maybe that explains the tender moment when Mac and bassist Pierce McGarry, still playing their instruments, get down on their knees during ‘Baby’s Wearin Blue Jeans’, and share a sloppy kiss, Mac’s thin, porny moustache mingling with Pierce’s full ginger beard. Actually, maybe nothing can explain that.
Backstage before the show, the band down whiskeys and beers while worrying that they’ve grown rusty over the last month. “We picked up our instruments earlier,” said Mac, “and we were like, ‘How does this go again?’” As Mac recorded his next record solo and only finished it two days ago, the band have had no time to learn new songs. “I haven’t even heard them,” shrugs Pierce. “I’ve only just got them onto my iPod.”
They needn’t worry about rustiness. The only fault on opener ‘Cooking Up Something Good’ is technical: Mac’s vocals are buried too low in the mix. When that’s sorted they’re back on form, pounding beers and introducing the next song as ‘Madonna’s Pussy Lips’. It’s really called ‘The Stars Keep On Calling My Name’, but who’s counting? Someone in the crowd shouts out “Lou Reed”, and there’s a rare moment of near-sincerity, as Mac announces a “moment” for the recently gone Velvet Underground pioneer, blowing a kiss to the heavens. He dedicates the next song, the utterly appropriate New York strut of ‘Rock And Roll Night Club’ to Lou.
It’s at this point, three songs in, that Pierce chooses to thank everyone for coming and announces that there are only two songs left. This is a lie. Pierce says it because he likes “fucking with the crowd”, but it’s also part of a larger strand that runs through the Mac DeMarco show. They’d never spell it out so prosaically, but when you’re watching them you’re watching an incredibly tight and talented band deconstruct your expectations of a rock show. They play with all the formalities and tropes that you’re used to seeing at a gig, and then twist them into new shapes for their own amusement.
It’s there when Mac introduces ‘Ode To Viceroy’ as ‘Pee Pee Pee Pee Sauce’, and it’s there when Pierce halts the gig to run through a bad toilet-humour pastiche of observational stand-up. It’s there when they cover The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ and twist and tear it into a heavy metal screamer or sing ‘Stairway To Heaven’ in a ridiculous falsetto. It works because the audience are in on the joke, too. When Mac dives into the crowd during ‘Still Together’ and loses a shoe, the crowd is quick to return it and he surfs back to the stage with the sweaty trainer flopping out of his mouth like a distended tongue.
Afterwards, the band all put their lack of rustiness down to “muscle memory”. They’re back doing what they do best, and they all have wide grins on their faces that reflect those on the faces of the sold-out crowd as they shuffle out. By not taking anything too earnestly, they’ve become a seriously great band. It’s all, as Mac would say, “very chill”.
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Kevin EG Perry