DeMarco Celebrates Album Release with Enthusiastic Antics


Claire Morton

Mac DeMarco celebrated his new album release to an expectant and enthusiastic crowd at the ’Sco on Tuesday. His eccentric behavior, which includes jokes, raunchy banter and suggestive chants, made for an unforgettable stage presence.

Nora Kipnis, Staff Writer

Oberlin students are generally pretty laid-back about celebrity culture, but even weeks before self-described “jizz jazz” artist Mac DeMarco came to campus, you couldn’t walk from one side of campus to the other without overhearing something along the lines of, “Every song sounds the same, but they’re all so good, man!”

On Tuesday — the day DeMarco released his second full-length album, Salad Days — the audience at the ’Sco received the Brooklyn-dwelling Canadian native, his band and opener Amen Dunes with a sense of respect that quickly escalated into a full-on dance party. When DeMarco appeared in the audience in the opening act, whispers that “He’s over there!” rippled through the crowd as students tried to play it cool.

If every song really sounds the same and slacker rock is “just decent,” what is it about 23-year-old DeMarco that makes everyone and their mother swoon? Is it the charming gap between his front teeth or his bizarre behavior on stage that includes urinating on his screaming fans and inserting a microphone into his anus, as shown on YouTube? Aside from the disarming way DeMarco presents himself on stage, our generation can relate to lyrics like, “What Mom don’t know has taken its toll on me,” from the new song “Passing Out Pieces,” that casually hint at the emotional struggle behind the mundane lifestyle of an indie musician rising to fame during late adolescence and early adulthood. The lyrics include topics such as figuring out life away from family, testing social and sexual boundaries and plumbing new depths of feeling.

DeMarco croons his too-cool poetry over dreamy effects on the folky lead guitars, tinny rhythm guitars, gentle drum beats and subtly funky bass lines. Ultimately, the music has the updated-vintage, grimy-buthopeful feel of an Instagram photo of a New York teenager’s first afternoon on the boardwalk at Coney Island.

Early in his career, DeMarco self-released several albums and also recorded one with the Canadian label Unfamiliar Records under the name Makeout Videotape. These releases had more of a grungy shoegaze sound than the post-2012 albums, but his soft vocals and Beach Boys-inspired “ooohs” in “Heat Wave” and the ambient guitars in “Only You” hint at the eventual transformation that came when he signed with the Brooklyn indie label Captured Tracks.

DeMarco’s first EP, Rock and Roll Nightclub, quickly garnered attention with danceable, glam-rock tracks and unnerving radio static intros (for example, “106.2 Breeze FM” is introduced by a radio announcer saying, “We have a couple little songs from a newcomer, Mac DeMarco”). The same year, he released 2, in which he found a natural groove, one slightly more sincere but less experimental. Pitchfork liked it enough to name it as some of the “Best New Music” of 2012. His April 1 album, Salad Days, has already received a total score of 83 out of 100 by review aggregator Metacritic, indicating that the prolific singer-songwriter is certainly on his way toward fame. The newest album is diverse, channeling David Bowie with eerie pop synths and consistently laid-back rock à la Weezer.

The ’Sco concert began with a performance by Amen Dunes, who is touring alongside DeMarco for good reason, given that both bands share a penchant for ambient sound, ominous interludes and mutedly emotional lyrics sometimes evocative of a hipster love story. But Amen Dunes turns energetic more often than DeMarco, and the guitars feature so much distortion and reverb that one audience member shouted that they sounded like U2. Unlike DeMarco’s abrupt transitions from falsetto to muttering, Amen Dunes stuck with the largely incomprehensible groan of a tortured rocker and vocals that are somewhat reminiscent of hymns. The two guitarists and drummer in Amen Dunes performed songs that evoked the music of Velvet Underground and Arcade Fire, but their sound is also in keeping with the more recent and esoteric surf rock tradition of bands like Wavves. A highlight of their act was “Lilac in Hand” off the album Love, coming in May.

When DeMarco eventually took the stage, he charmed the pants off the audience and then the shirt off his drummer, Joe McMurray. Hardly ten minutes in, he had the whole crowd cheering “Show your chest!” until McMurray finally relented. DeMarco’s live show was far more energetic than his recordings would suggest, and he had the crowd dancing for most of the show. There was less of a focus on the tinny guitars, and the jazz influence and groovy, Motown-inspired bass lines were far more evident. He played plenty of songs off his new album, including “Salad Days” and “Chamber of Reflection.”

The band also brought out crowd-pleasers from 2 like “Freaking Out the Neighborhood,” “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name” and “Ode to Viceroy.” After stagediving during the finale, which was complete with strobe lights and a cheeky nod to stadium fireworks at high-budget pop shows via a slightly pixelated video on a projector behind him, DeMarco remained onstage at the audience’s urging. He kept the dance party going with “Rock and Roll Nightclub” from his first album, his deep baritone vocals reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s singing on “Nightclubbing.” When the house lights finally went on to indicate closing time, the audience was as big as it had been at the show’s height, despite the late hour on a Tuesday. Some hopeful audience members even attempted to get DeMarco to play another, to no avail.

DeMarco is known for having a terrific stage presence, but unfortunately the sound system at the ’Sco rendered his jokes and banter between songs largely incomprehensible. He certainly finds humor in a fair bit of raunchiness, as was evident from the projector behind him that showed a video of flexing pectorals during most of the show, as well as photographs accompanied by pink-lettered captions like “Hot male in sexy thong.” DeMarco’s slideshow also featured waves crashing on a beach and fireworks, but it’s hard to tell if he’s trying to be ironic in implicating emotional depth by showing students he can find beauty in nature. To the relief of Mama ’Sco but perhaps the disappointment of the edgier students in the audience, DeMarco didn’t do anything too weird on stage.

DeMarco’s performance, as well as the album released on the same day, showcased the depth and breadth of a much-anticipated musician. Those who were unfamiliar with his music left beaming and gushing about how they were going to download his albums right away. Meanwhile, DeMarco’s friendly, unpretentious demeanor allowed his fans an opportunity to chat with the highly approachable “slacker with a heart of gold,” as Spin called him. For those who think DeMarco’s songs all sound the same and are only fit for lying around in the sun, it might be worthwhile to give the artist another chance with a live performance — and challenge yourself to refrain from dancing.