When Mac DeMarco dropped his third album, This Old Dog, in May, newspaper critics everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. With its mellow sound and nuanced lyrics, many assumed the twenty-something slacker was finally growing up. That, coupled with a sellout two-night residency at Brixton’s 5,000 capacity O2 Academy, would put an end to the pranks and fart jokes. Or so it seemed.
No doubt many in the audience were wondering just how DeMarco’s particular brand of intimate indie would translate in the cavernous Brixton Academy. After all, just weeks ago the Canadian cult favourite was at London’s Numbacca bar tearing it up in front of 300 people. But from the minute he arrives on stage, the singer makes the venue his own. “We’re going to play you some new songs, we’re going to play some old songs,” he drawls casually, introducing his four bandmates between swigs of beer. Then, without hesitation it’s off into ‘Salad Days’, the equally nonchalant title track from his second album. The crowd know every word.
At first the set does what it says on the tin; a loose jumble of tracks from the new album and some greatest hits. DeMarco is deft at changing gear, switching seamlessly from love ballad ‘For The First Time’ into the bouncy ‘The Stars Keep On Calling My Name’. His laid-back mantra amid this chopping and changing is lost on the venue’s security personnel, who are promptly dressed down for their policing of the crowd. DeMarco’s words clearly have some resonance, as minutes later a fan makes it across the barriers and on to the stage. For a moment the bloke can’t seem to believe his luck, managing a high-five with his idol before being relegated backstage, the bouncers hot in pursuit.
At times the venue’s size works against the woozy, sun-drenched reverb of the guitars, turning the Academy into an Echo Chamber of Reflection and, while the Eighties synth is strong on the eerie pop of ‘On The Level’, other flourishes, so essential in the studio, are missing here. This becomes notable on a rather flat performance of ‘Dreams Of Yesterday’, a standout track on the new album which is lost as the audience begins chatting among themselves.
Having tipped his hat to his favourite brand of cigarette on ‘Ode to Viceroy’, the crowd’s many smokers hold their own lighters aloft throughout ‘One More Love Song’, a refreshingly retro sight in a world of phone screens. The first half of the set culminates in ‘Moonlight on the River’, 10-minutes of experimental prog-folk that crescendos into an almost deafening wall of sound and strobes. Then things get interesting.
Undeterred by the size of the crowd, the encore tangents into a 30-minute jam, with a bare-chested DeMarco throwing himself around the stage and slugging from a bottle. The music occasionally veers into tongue-in-cheek early 00s pop covers, Red Hot Chili Peppers inspired singalongs and a surreal rendition of ‘I’m Henry VIII, I Am’. Some are baffled, most are entertained, but overall it’s a bizarre and fitting end to the evening. Five or 5,000, this old dog is in no hurry to take himself too seriously.