Mac DeMarco plays a unique brand of indie-lounge-jazz-slacker-rock (or simply ‘jizz jazz’, in his own words) that has made him one of the most loveable and influential voices in modern rock. On Saturday at Red Hill Auditorium he took his sound to the big stage and not only delighted Perth audiences, but also showed them some new tricks.
Opening proceedings as it hit dusk were local act Cold Meat. They have a brilliant sound somewhere between the ragged punk of The Raincoats and the pop-informed attack of The Buzzcocks. The band’s rhythmic lockstep of droning bass and buzzsaw guitar was formidable and the venue carried their sound amazingly well as they riffed through a machine gun set of tunes such as Nice Girls and Maternity Stomp.
Pond came on next to a crowd that was filling out. Pond have transitioned over the years from loose psych rockers into a band armed with a set of epic tunes perfectly suited to the big stage. Giant arena-pop numbers like Sweep Me Off My Feet and Paint Me Silver had the crowd enraptured, as did a perfect cover of Madonna’s Ray of Light (originally recorded for triple j’s Like a Version) which highlighted frontman Nick Allbrook’s impressive falsetto. If there was a complaint to be had, it’s that Allbrook’s vocals weren’t as audible as you’d like.
The band’s reverb-drenched sound is woozy and washed out on their studio recordings as it is, so live it was understandable that some things got buried in the mix. The band worked best when they prized feel and atmosphere over intricacy, but luckily most of their tunes fit this bill. The epic Daisy from last year’s LP Tasmania had punters singing along, and the set finished with the synth washes and beautiful guitar lines of The Weather. It was a suitable ending, a kaleidoscopic big-screen rendition far more epic than the original.
The crowd was well and truly warmed up as Mac DeMarco made his entrance, and he made sure to play off the good vibes. Epic classical music blared as the band made its way on stage, a self-consciously ridiculous introduction to an artist who is the antithesis of bombast. DeMarco was a warm and laidback presence on stage, as relaxed as his music would suggest. The band’s stage banter was a delight throughout, the members riffing off each other with a lovably relaxed dryness. The high (or low) light was doubtlessly Mac’s thoughts on Vans vs Nike as he executed a perfect Shoey on some footwear thrown on stage.
Thankfully the band also played some tunes. On a Level got things off to a moody start, DeMarco commanding the stage over the song’s distinctive synth line. The guitar came out for Salad Days, and would remain all night. As a rhythm guitarist, DeMarco was sharp throughout. His steady palm-muted rhythms drove tracks such as Cooking Up Something Good, while fan favourite Ode to Viceroy showcased some of the trademark DeMarco twang, and his execution of the song’s cascading guitar part was perfect. Extra props must go to second guitarist Andy White, who absolutely let rip on highlight Freaking out the Neighbourhood. The track stopped and started several times, with Andy bursting into an epic guitar solo on each occasion and showcasing some seriously speedy blues guitar chops that would have made Mark Knopfler proud.
It was this type of playfulness and digression that made the set stand out. DeMarco’s tunes tend to be short and tight, and he covered all bases as he played close to 20 songs over two hours. But on top of that, he played around with some of these fan favourites in fascinating ways. Recent single Nobody concentrated less on its distinctive trumpet-like synth and more on guitar flourishes, as Mac slowed the track down and let it breathe. Finally Alone and Still Beating were both slowed down and played the way they should have been all along, with the latter particularly realising its full potential as a beautiful ballad. One More Love Song featured a sexy wah wah shred before Mac’s impromptu call for a piano solo saw keyboardist Alec Mean oblige with some seriously smooth jazzy lines. But most fascinating of all was My Old Man, which was stripped of its back beat and instead floated on a sea of Rhodes-style electric piano tones in a beautiful jazzy rendition that was lighter than air.
Chamber of Reflection was played straight for a change as proceedings wound down to a close, but things weren’t quite finished yet. Closing the set was a beautiful take on Still Together. The studio version of this song isn’t much to speak of, but it took on new life live as DeMarco delivered a wonderful vocal performance. In line with the playful nature of the set, things took an interesting turn as the song seemed to wind down before the band started chugging out some metal riffs and then exploding into variations of I’m Henry the VIII, I Am. Some were fast, some were slow, some were sung in a bogan accent – it was a bizarre detour that may have dragged a bit long, but you couldn’t help love it all the same. The notes of Still Together returned for a triumphant finale and then the band were off, capping off a great night that delivered and surprised in equal measure.
Photos by Annie Harvey