Throughout Mac DeMarco’s 90-minute set at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last night, the video screens blended performance footage of DeMarco and his three-piece band with images of Kelsey Grammer as the X-Men character Beast. Not the Beast as played by Nicolas Hoult in the past two acclaimed “X-Men” films; only Grammer’s Beast, from the little-loved “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
Why? No idea. A cursory Google search provides no answers. It was totally random, yet somehow made perfect sense. And that’s Mac DeMarco in a nutshell.
In just a few short years, DeMarco has gone from unknown to underground icon. His music is laid-back, loose and softly evocative, but it’s not the type of boundary-pushing, genre-bending rock that elicits cultish ardor. Instead, DeMarco’s appeal revolves around the twin stars of earnestness and playfulness, two qualities that rarely converge in the world of singer-songwriters.
Those same attributes apply to his hand-picked openers, Kirin J Callinan and Jonathan Richman. There are some artists that blur the line between terrible and compelling so thoroughly that it's impossible to distinguish between the two. That was Callinan. His brief, minimalist set -- a mix of reverb soaked guitar and are-you-kidding EDM drops -- was met initially with awkward chuckles and confused shrugs, but by the time he got to his finale "The Teacher," there was a strange but serious logic to his performance that drew genuine cheers, even before Mac Demarco joined him onstage for the song.
Like DeMarco, Jonathan Richman enjoys a supremely passionate following among his fan base but his music plays better in small clubs than outdoor amphitheaters. That made it feel as if some of his best qualities -- particularly his intimate, observant lyrics -- were lost in translation but his set still had plenty to like. His opening song “No One Was Like Vermeer” is emblematic of his style, as Richman’s music is both academic and comedic and armed with only an acoustic guitar and drummer on a tiny kit, his effortless songwriting shined through.
With a late-arriving crowd, it was clear that DeMarco was the main attraction and he did not disappoint. His guitar tones are unlike anyone else and their unique, shimmery pitch was not lost in concert. His backing band also sounded great, but the biggest takeaway was how much fun DeMarco seemed to be having. Whether covering Steely Dan’s “Reelin in the Years” or dropping a propulsive take on “Freaking Out the Neighborhood,” DeMarco and his band brought an infectious energy to their live performance.
That spilled over into the audience, as much of the crowd in front jumped up onstage as DeMarco performed “Chamber of Reflection,” the second to last song of the night. But unlike a stage-rush at metal shows, the fans were there simply to bask in the warmth of DeMarco, as they politely climbed their way up and formed something like a human cocoon around him. Excepting a sloppy but fun encore of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” DeMarco’s set ended with “Still Together,” a song and sentiment that brought the evening to a fitting close. DeMarco’s definition of “beast-mode” is different than most, but the enraptured crowd would no doubt agree it still fits (like a glove, from up above).
Above, check out a slideshow of picture's from DeMarco's Greek performance by William Pankey. Mac DeMarco is playing the Warfield in San Francisco on May 21; for a full list of his upcoming dates, click here.