Before we get into the unpredictable, shirtless, groovy experience that was Friday night’s Mac DeMarco concert, I have to admit that my primary motivation for taking this assignment was to understand the phenomenon that is… “the Mac”!
I was totally unfamiliar with the 29-year-old Canadian native’s music until my younger sister—a newly 21-year-old Gen Z-er—introduced me to his brand of lo-fi cigarette love songs a few years back. That his latest release, 2019’s “Here Comes the Cowboy,” is a self-reflective collection of laconic slow jams appealed to me on a visceral level—“all our yesterdays have gone now” and all. I, too, am terrified of turning 30.
But the fanaticism of DeMarco’s thriving Generation Z “stan”-base has always centered on the rowdy energy of his legendary live shows. A quick YouTube search of DeMarco concerts reveals full nudity, onstage drinking, smoking and other shenanigans unfit for publication in a family newspaper. How, I wondered, would DeMarco’s even more mellow new output—music that works as perfectly unobstructive background noise in the office, by the way—sync with the musician’s typically wild onstage presence?
I needn’t have worried. From the opening snippet of “Old Town Road”—the power he has!—the teen to early 30-something crowd (honestly indistinguishable from each other, everyone’s in overalls these days) settled in for a wonderfully weird evening. An opening medley of old and new songs included crowd favorites “Salad Days,” “Nobody,” “My Old Man,” and a brief cover of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” which was recieved about as enthusiastically as you might expect. Read: very enthusiastically.
DeMarco’s breezy jams are suited to the outdoors and his show’s setting at the Long Center’s Skyline Theater overlooking Lady Bird Lake just felt right. I’m sure all the juuling teens in attendance would agree.
The long summer day lazily shifted into night over the course of the concert, somewhere between a funky, danceable set of “Choo Choo,” for which DeMarco recruited a few lucky audience members to play maracas; “Cooking Up Something Good;” “Ode to Viceroy,” his infamous cigarette love song; “All Of Our Yesterdays;” and “One More Love Song,” during which DeMarco claimed not to remember the lyrics and pulled a concert-goer named “Noah” onstage to deliver a surprisingly strong rendition of the ballad. Whether Noah was a plant or not, DeMarco had swigged enough from an unlabeled bottle onstage by this point that forgetting a few lyrics was completely believable.
DeMarco pulled out a few older, more upbeat tracks later on, including “Freaking Out the Neighborhood” and “Rock and Roll Night Club,” during which—in true “dad” fashion—the band entreated their audience to just “be careful” if they decide to mosh. DeMarco did not join the mosh, but a few of his bandmates did.
“I don’t want to be a poser but I’m looking for a cowboy hat,” DeMarco announced, shortly before someone tossed him a rhinestone-studded Stetson lookalike. He also said the band visited Barton Springs earlier in the day — “YEAH!”
He doesn’t necessarily say anything hilarious—at least nothing that would translate in print—but the way he abruptly deepens his voice to a croak, bellows odd words, whips off his shirt and squat-struts his way around the stage in a sparkly cowboy hat while encouraging the audience to chant, in unison, “Yeehaw,” “Mama,” “turkey,” “cranberry sauce,” among other NSFW phrases, is disarmingly entertaining.
The appeal of DeMarco lies in his everyman sensibility—he reminds you of your weird friend from high school, or that frat guy who was somehow cool with everybody. His songs are deceivingly simple, but burrow deeply into your head and prove surprisingly danceable at a live show. It’s the kind of music I could probably make, if I remotely knew how to sing, play an instrument or craft a song.
The show ended with a medley of rollicking cover songs like ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” led by guitarist Andy White (a dead ringer for Austin's favorite son, Matthew McConaughey) screeching appealingly on the microphone, but the set of DeMarco originals closed with lovelorn, melancholy tunes “My Kind of Woman,” “Chamber of Reflection” and “Still Together,” a nice reminder that while it’s okay to feel sad or scared of our mortality sometimes, we’re not dead yet and we might as well keep having fun.