If you started stopping people in the street and asking them what the rock and roll lifestyle is all about, you’d get a massively varied range of responses. The first would be: “Who are you and what do you want?”. The second would be “arriving on stage drunk and an hour later than billed, playing a handful of songs and then fleeing the venue”. For some musicians, sure, this might be what their lifestyle is all about, but Mac DeMarco is not one of those musicians. His O2 Victoria Warehouse set is billed to start at 9:45, and he takes to the stage at 9:45 on. the. dot. Both he and his band drink at pace with the audience, and play a set that lasts longer than the entire accumulative stage time of Alex Rose’s last stadium tour.
Not wasting any time, the band launch right into a crowd pleasing intro with the ultra-sexy ‘On the Level’ that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the evening. The crowd, seemingly comprised entirely of randomised Sims from a character creation screen, lap it up. As the evening wears on, Mac and his band work through varied sections of his back catalogue. They keep the crowd’s pace going with upbeat favourites like ‘Salad Days’ and ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’, but still manage to guide the collective energy of the room back down for downbeat and more chilled out material such as ‘This Old Dog’ and ‘My Kind of Woman’. The ease with which Mac and his supporting musicians fluctuate between these two massively contrasting musical moods is testament to their skills as live artists. At times; the front and centre of the crowd erupts into an uproarious pit as Mac screams nonsensical obscenities into the mic. At other times; the house lights are dimmed, and the crowd winds into a serene calm as lighters are raised aloft. Effortlessly transitioning an audience through these moments is a rare gift even in long since established acts, and the fact that Mac DeMarco and his cohorts are able to wield this kind of command over a venue the size of the Victoria Warehouse is all the more impressive given that his first LP was released only 6 short years ago.
It would be remiss of me to not take a moment to discuss the supporting acts on the bill. Opening the evening a mere 10 minutes after doors opened was Aldous RH, a tried and tested Manchester performer whose smooth stylings eased the early arrivals into a seduced sense of musical security. Aldous RH is what Prince would sound like if he was from the north-west of England. Secondly, Jackie Cohen took to the stage with her band, and played a set that traced the fine line between contemporary blues and alternative indie. It was a massively interesting musical combination, and coupled with a peppering of Legend of Zelda references, made her set the pleasant surprise of the evening. Finally, tearing the crowd into a frenzy just before the headline act was Californian electro-punk band The Garden. Now I must confess, when their set started I did not realise they were an act. It genuinely seemed like two tech staff had gone totally rogue and I was very confused as to why no-one was stopping them. Adorned in boiler suits and trench coats, at times they completely abandoned their instruments and start rolling around the stage and frantically repeating odd phrases over a backing track. Watching them perform was a bit like watching someone shout Charles Manson quotes at an MMA warm-up routine.
Finally, the evening began to close with an updated rendition of Mac’s classic ‘Still Together’ that was abruptly stopped a chorus early. What then followed utterly defied any expectations one could have for the performance. The band launched into a range of covers from acts such as The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana, and The Misfits, as the band swapped roles without the faintest hint of a care for how much they had overrun their set. The guitarist (now shirtless) took up split vocal duties with the drummer, as the keyboardist picked up the guitar and Mac himself took to the drum kit. In an act of even more surreal peculiarity, Andy, the crowd-baying guitarist, made an effort to announce his bid for the Manchester mayorship between songs and enthusiastically pledged his overwhelming support for the NHS. They even brought the Aldous RH vocalist back on for a rendition of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name Of’. Finally, after more than 20 minutes of musical experimentation, the band resumed their usual positions and brought back the final chorus of ‘Still Together’ to draw proceedings to a perfectly rounded close.
All in all, Mac DeMarco, his band, and the supporting acts, made for a massively varied and engaging string of performances. If all live events were this good, nobody would ever spend their time doing anything else. I cannot possibly overstate how thoroughly, thoroughly impressed I was by the gig as a whole.
On a scale of 1 – 5, I would rate it: really fucking good.
Reviewed by James Bosson