Iceland Airwaves 2019: Mac DeMarco’s transformation from goofball to accomplished songwriter is complete

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You know the vibe of Mac DeMarco by now. He’s the slacker-icon with a penchant for Viceroy cigarettes, The Simpsons paraphernalia and breezy indie-pop. That’s been the conventional wisdom around Mac for quite some time and he’s done little to refute it. He’s just a guy who likes making music and hanging out with his pals – and if he gets up to a few hi-jinx now and then, who’s to stand in the way of that?

Well, Mac is really. His latest album ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ opens a new phase of his career by the looks of it. On it, he dreams of a simpler life – the chords are mellow, the vocals are hushed and laid-back. He’s insular and restrained, the goof-ball that people made him out to be had all grown-up – but would he lose his charm?

Last night’s headline appearance at Iceland Airwaves (November 7) would suggest not. For his first show in Iceland in quite some time, Mac plays it straight. Considering how much time has elapsed between his last shows here, he’s quite as different guy. 2014’s ‘Salad Days’ and the prior ‘2’ were both playful yet measured, but now he’s a chilled-out dude whose songwriting knack has only grown stronger. As a performer, he’s calmer and his voice smoother and far more impressive.

Mac DeMarco at Iceland Airwaves

That new era doesn’t seem to bother the packed-out crowd at Reykjavik Art Museum for his Thursday night set. They lap up songs from all eras of Mac – the woozy ‘On A Level’ (accompanied by vintage wrestling clips on the screen behind him) is a gentle start and the smooth ‘Finally Alone’ and ‘Nobody’ are engineered to fill rooms as big as this, yet feel like close quarters of poolhouse recording studio, Jizz Jazz, where he now works on all of his albums.

Whereas previous Mac gigs were lively, playful affairs they’re now simply very pleasant – and that’s a good thing. Gags from the stage and practical jokes are likely as tiresome for the band as much as they are for the audience. Now, we’re ready to just hear the hits. ‘Freaking Out The Neighbourhood’ and ‘Ode To Viceroy’ pack the same bite as they did over a half a decade ago, but it’s the experimental, funk-laden ‘Choo Choo’ which provides one of the set’s biggest highlights and a window into perhaps the next phase: fun, loose but without too much shtick.

Where this cowboy rides off to next is anyone’s guess, but there’s definitely a crowd here waiting for it whenever he trots back into town.