Stepping into the Beachland Ballroom last night was like entering a new world where people didn't take themselves seriously. Before singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco even took the stage, weirdoes in flat-brimmed hats were clearly ready to dance. I expected a set of super-chill songs with gooey guitar and a good deal of funk. What I got was much different.
After several minutes of sound problems, bassist Pierce McGarry pointed at the crowd, exclaiming, “These cretins kept unplugging me.” It was the beginning of a strange series of interactions with the audience.
The band quickly launched into “Salad Days,” the opening title track on the its new album (which just came out today, by the way) before playing several other new songs including “Blue Boy” and “Brother” and a fast rendition of “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name” that sounded like it belonged in a Tiki hut, with jangly, island sounds.
While everything Mac DeMarco played was recognizable, nothing sounded as simple or pure as the album versions. He played most of the songs faster and they sounded weirder, partly because they were punctuated by random screams or brief funky breakdowns that never erupted into the kind of self-indulgent jam sessions that could have turned the show into a snoozer.
It’s clear the band of Canadians doesn’t take itself seriously. At one point, McGarry pulled a random dude onto the stage, telling him to speak to the crowd. The guy screamed out, “Mac DeMarco, guuyyyyys!” and the crowd, which approached a very drunken state very early in the night, hollered and cheered. McGarry insisted, “No man, tell us something personal.” All the stranger could do was rant about the band, so McGarry decided to return him back to his place in the crowd.
The crowd clapped along to “Let Her Go,” a grooving, baby-making song, and jumped up and down to “Ode to Viceroy,” a slow jam love song about cheap cigarettes where DeMarco croons, “Oh, don’t let me see you crying/Cuz oh honey, I’ll smoke you til I’m dying.”
People went nuts when the band launched into “Freaking Out The Neighborhood,” a fun pop nugget that DeMarco supposedly wrote as an apology to his mom after she saw a video of some of his more bizarre antics on YouTube.
The band rounded out the set with “Still Together,” a song that’s a nice, sweet ballad on the album but turned into a full-on rocker onstage with DeMarco yodeling like he was ready to join the Cranberries. Halfway through, between swigs of whiskey straight from the bottle, he crowd surfed and then returned to the stage to finish with a strong falsetto.
The encore was a drunken karaoke party of sorts. DeMarco claimed “his brother” Pierce wrote the first song, before launching into a sloppy version of Chris Isaak’s timeless “Wicked Game” that the band sung out of tune while DeMarco played drums. At one point during the weird encore, the band ordered the crowd to kneel on the ground, and everyone dropped like obedient puppies.
If we were the animals, and this was Mac DeMarco’s three-ring circus, it was every bit as fun to be part of the bizarre spectacle, the first stop on the band’s U.S. tour. This is a show for people who aren’t too strict about taking themselves seriously. And with an audience full of “cretins,” Mac DeMarco put on a beautiful display that provided an escape from the dull monotony of Cleveland’s endless winter and a window to talent that’s not so self-involved.