On a crude stage in the crotch of two corporate buildings, an old guitar leaned on a yardsale synthesizer. A crowd of fifty or so had scrunched to the stage hours early, soaked in purple/green stage light. Clouds of breath rose and mingled with cigarette smoke and the meek, sputtering mist of an offstage fog machine. It smelled like bad dope, American Spirits, B.O., and beer breath.
These were Mac Demarco fans: unwashed, unshaven, nearly dead-eyed twenty-somethings slugging plastic cups and swapping stories of recent drug trips. Some had the schlubby look of a Seth Rogan or a Jonah Hill. Some were tiny, artistic girls with little thumb-holes in their shirtsleeves and impossibly black hair. Loners, frat boys, tie-dyed deadheads, beardy hipsters, and starry-eyed fangirls stood shoulder-to-shoulder as more fans poured into the alley.
At long last, Mac Demarco walked up to the stage with the swagger of a shifty-eyed stoner arriving late to class. He was all blue-eyed wonder and toothy smiles, a huge face topped with a little hat that would’ve looked at home on Quint from JAWS. After a few words of introduction, he launched into an acoustic rendition of Salad Days:
This was Mac Demarco the way I’d always wanted to see him. At a previous show at the Comerica Theater, he was hundreds of feet away, backed by his usual crew of ne’er-do-wells, and seen from movie theater seats. That whole show was impersonal, and unremarkable, with the exception of an over-the-top cover of Van Halen’s “Running With The Devil.”
The first solo show was Mac Demarco at his best: the inviting, unpretentious, and goofy Mac that surprises you with his unique candidness and clowniness. This show had the buzz of a direct-in guitar PA, botched chords, and a dizzying give-and-take between performer and fans. This fittingly lo-fi and stripped-down sound is where Mac thrives. He records on tape, at home, and delights in obscene, teenage-rascal illustrations (The highlight of Christmas 2017 was Mac’s demented cover of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time,” mostly for its body-morph horror cover art.)
Mac launched into crowd favorites, like Blue Boy, Freaking Out the Neighborhood, Viceroy, and encouraged the crowd to sing the lead guitar parts. A crowd of wasted millenials screaming falsetto guitar lines is a sound unlike any other. Some seasoned Mac fans called for deeper cuts like Another One and Eating Like A Kid from his Makeout Videotape days. A few times, his voice faltered on the high notes, and he’d cringe, play the chords over again, and nail a falsetto you’d never expect to come from a chain-smoker.
Between songs, a girl leaning against the fence at the front announced it was her birthday. Mac looked at her with astonishment, and led the crowd in a spirited Happy Birthday song. The girl looked ready to explode with excitement.
Mac’s newer songs, like This Old Dog and On the Level, didn’t get the same hysteria from the crowd as the Salad Days material, but a grumbling choir of sad-sacks helped with the choruses. The whole crowd swayed and nodded along, with some spectators peeping from the windows of the US Bank building, and others on the roof and fire escape of the Valley Bar.
After a career-spanning performance of stoner anthems and tear-jerkers, Mac launched into his frequent closer. Together, his unbelievably tender ode to his sweetheart Kiera (who gave him a little kiss at the front of the song), culminated in a full-crowd singalong, and his triumphant return to crowd surfing. A manic sea of fan-hands carried mac to the back of the alley, and back forward to the stage, where he hopped back, regained his guitar, and granted us a few more choruses:
The performance was unrelenting in warmth, talent, and humor, and put to rest any anxiety I had about some harsh reviews of his recent live sets. This show reaffirmed all the reasons people freak out about Mac, and his cultish following became even more culty.
To raise the bar on wholesome fan appreciation, he sauntered back to the front of the stage after the show, lit up a Marlboro, and began talking one-on-one to his fans. I talked to Mac for a solid ten minutes, in sheer disbelief. I asked about his interview with Marc Maron on the WTF Podcast, and he shrugged and said it seemed like Marc had skimmed his Wikipedia page and knew nothing about what he’s about. We talked, remarkably casually, about Pendleton shirts, Wrangler Jeans, his weird artwork, and the merits of minivans.
After me, he talked to each and every fan that lingered after the show. Literally hundreds of one-on-ones, mugging selfies, and aimless stories from fans. I watched, creepily, while he connected with each of these people, with the easy disposition of an old buddy.
In summation, Mac Demarco’s performance at Punk Rock Alley (the outdoor section of the Valley Bar), was an affirmation of his authentic musical ethics. It was everything an indie music fan could hope for, and a refreshing dose of a musician who has been somewhat quiet for the last year.
If Mac Demarco comes to your town on this tour, do everything in your power to see him. It will give you, and everyone around you, a warm and fuzzy feeling that lingers like a crazed fan.