Mac Demarco – Forum Theatre
Mac DeMarco – Forum Theatre, Melbourne
Mac DeMarco is a man of the people, for the people. It is, after all, kind of adorable to walk by the venue early in the night and be able to see the Edmonton-born, now Los Angeles-based musician crouched by the stage door, amicably listening to a few fans (or are they friends?) and looking like the human version of the Littlest Hobo. This accessibility around him does wonders for his appeal: if he can do it, surely we all can.
His slack-jawed, man-about-town persona is a front, of course. Beneath his gap-toothed grin, every day lazy man attire, and boyish guffawing, DeMarco’s undoubtedly a talented, hard-working musician who’s self-aware of both his appeal and his abilities. Touring in support of his fifth(!) studio album, 2017’s This Old Dog, his second Laneway sideshow – a stop at Melbourne’s Forum Theatre on Wednesday night – was a sweat drenched, sold out affair.
As venue security stood outside, scrutinizing every last inch of ID for the 18+ event (and turning away their fair share of crushed under-agers,) opening four-piece the Marty Frawley Band were on stage to dole out their brand of laissez-faire garage rock. The titular Frawley, best known for his work with Twerps, had a self-deprecating stage presence and lazy drawl, delivering songs like “She’s Just Like the Rest” over a plodding bass line and making jokes about their Pitchfork curb appeal. The crowd took it in stride with their own subdued apathy, but it served its purpose in setting up the night.
The antithesis of subdued apathy is, perhaps, Kirin J Callinan – both in terms of his overwhelming presence and in terms of how people react to him. The Sydney musician has been something of a controversial figure – splashing his manhood across his Instagram feed, participating in blackface, and flashing his bits on the ARIA red carpet (an act which now sees him facing wilful and obscene exposure charges.) He was also kicked off the Laneway 2018 bill as a result, with Brisbane rapper Miss Blanks drawing attention to his recent behaviour and applauding the festival for holding Callinan accountable to his “reckless and insensitive actions.”
Nevertheless, he was there as direct support for his good friend at the sideshow, flanked by his two-piece backing band. Callinan arrived on stage dressed in his now-signature denim-on-denim Canadian tuxedo and cowboy hat, briefly touching on themes of respect throughout his set but mostly just there to shock and entertain.
Musically, Callinan pushes the limits of what one would imagine to be acceptable. Riling up the audience from the get go, his deep voice boomed out on “My Moment” before the song morphed into a terrible-to-the-point-of-it-being-great 90s pop song, complete with big beats – the sort of electronic drops you’d expect to hear from Diplo or Darude.
To Callinan’s credit, he seems to know what he’s doing, or at least how to stand out. He plays with a passion in a way that’s wholly weird and alienating to watch. He’s full on, all the time, with glam rock aspirations on display during “S. A. D.”, an 80s movie soundtrack throwback for “Landslide”, and even more bizarre Euro-trash dance pop with set closer “Big Enough”. If you weren’t confused by the end of Callinan’s show, you probably hadn’t been paying attention. He’s found a persona that’s uniquely him. It’s odd but he’s got the ability to pull it off and, in a little over five years, he’s certainly developed a unique space for himself in the industry.
“If you don’t like my music, that’s fine,” he told the watchful Forum. “We share something in common.”
Mac DeMarco, by comparison, delivers the sort of every day easy listening that goes down smoothly and begs to be sung along to. Opening his two hour set with “On The Level”, “Salad Days”, and “This Old Dog”, he and his four-piece band find their charm in the fact that it all seems like it’s standing on the brink of destruction – as if it wouldn’t take much for it all to go off-kilter. This is funny because it’s basically smoothly delivered pop rock, all centred to DeMarco’s croon. This was evidenced in songs like “Cooking Up Something Good” and the piano-led “My Old Man”, DeMarco telling the crowd: “This is a song that was too funky to play at the Laneway, so thank you for coming down.”
He and his band were definitely enjoying themselves on stage, throwing in some covers like a 30-second snippet of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” and DeMarco telling everyone: “We’re gonna play until the venue shuts the PA off, so we hope you’re having a good time.”
Good times were very much on the table. For much of the show, they were merely background sounds to the surrounding adolescent rowdiness and debauchery – alcohol flung around the room as a sea of crowd surfers cast themselves across outstretched arms to songs like “Moonlight on the River”, complete with its psychedelic extended outro.
DeMarco himself got in on the action, saying to the willing ears: “love one another, respect one another, keep it real” – then chugging beer from an audience member’s shoe; the king of the slack rock champions and poster boy for misspent youths. As he ended with an extended version of “Still Together” (complete with full song covers of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge” and Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”) it was a fulfilling set from a 27-year-old with a lot to offer. He appeals to the detached, disillusioned generation and, in a world of internet and YouTube stars, he’s right up there as the likeable, easy to get along with everyday man.
Returning for a single song encore of the surprisingly heartfelt “Watching Him Fade Away”, DeMarco asked everyone to grab a seat on the floor and told the audience about his dad dying and the eternal question of whether his father actually ever loved him. It was a heavy way to end things off, but it was all done in an approachable way – the entire thing coming to a close as DeMarco yelled “real recognizes real, motherf*ckers!” and throwing down the microphone.
Certainly, that’s the appeal. DeMarco’s an authentic, likeable figure. He’s been able to draw an audience of empathetic young people who want to have a good time with a guy that seems like he’d be a good time, too. It’s a smart move on his part and, as he displayed at his triumphant Wednesday night show, he’s very skilled at building up repeat customers. He’ll be an interesting artist to watch develop and grow – mostly because I want to see if his audience does, too.
Written by Sarah Rix
Shot by Nick Tucker