On tour for his maturest album to date, the aging millenial iconoclast stayed true to his silly roots Wednesday night at the Orpheum.
McBriare “Mac” DeMarco turned 27 in April. Conventional wisdom says he should be smack in the middle of his millennial quarter-life crisis right about now. But This Old Dog, his third solo studio LP, tells a different story. Released in May, the project showcases DeMarco’s best songwriting yet, facilitated by a newfound restraint.
Wednesday night, DeMarco and his band of hooligans played this new material for a mostly packed Orpheum, with support from California garage pop up-and-comers The Garden. It was clear from the start that even as he comes into his own as a musician and an adult, he still refuses to take himself too seriously.
DeMarco’s onstage antics are famous by now, and a major part of his appeal. He spends most of his stage time at least partially undressed, covers cheesy old rock songs, and invites fans up to perform with him. Wednesday, his guest of honor was a crew member named Yuki, an awkward kid in an oversized, neon green sweatshirt.
“You’ll be seeing more of Yuki later,” DeMarco promised, after introducing him early in the set, and he wasn’t lying. He wouldn’t deliver on his promise until the second half of the show, however, when the shenanigans were already in full swing.
The first half, which comprised mostly This Old Dog tracks, was notably more subdued. There was still plenty of audience interaction and a healthy dose of DeMarco’s signature gap-toothed grin, but there was a strong sense that he was truly proud of the songs he was playing.
On DeMarco’s earlier projects, soft rock satire often overshadowed and obfuscated the message (if there was one). His first solo EP, Rock and Roll Night Club, and his smash hit debut LP, 2, cemented his signature sound and won him an adoring fan base, but it was unclear whether he had anything more to offer than background beach fare.
His second full-length, the critically acclaimed Salad Days (2014), demonstrated DeMarco’s ability to write songs with substance, but the sound was so similar to that of the previous album that it all just sort of glommed together into the amorphous essence of Mac. And while 2 was chock full of stand-alone hits, Salad Days wasn’t. Tellingly, DeMarco dedicated a sizeable chunk of Wednesday’s set to 2, but only played two songs from Salad Days—its earworm title track and its psychedelic standout, “Chamber of Reflection.”
In 2016, DeMarco released an EP titled Another One, which was just that. Granted, it was essentially a gift to tide over his anxious fans while they waited for the next LP, but it felt more like a regression than a stepping stone. This Old Dog, while not as fun or beach-friendly as DeMarco’s previous work, is a lyrical masterpiece that explores a softer, folkier side only hinted at in the past. And unlike 2, which for all its greatness, comes off more like a beautifully crafted comedy set than a fully fleshed out rock album, This Old Dog feels, for the first time, like a creation that is entirely DeMarco’s own.
The new songs sounded great on Wednesday, especially the album’s title track, which departs from DeMarco's signature reverb-heavy jangle and features his first use of the pedal steel guitar. It’s easy to imagine DeMarco using the pedal steel to parody Laurel Canyon country rock. Instead, he uses it exactly as it was meant to be used, augmenting his catchy chorus with its unbearably mournful twang and leaving us wanting much, much more.
When DeMarco opened the night with “On the Level,” the track that ties This Old Dog most convincingly back to his earlier catalog, it felt somewhat out of place. The audience was giddy at the sight of their idol in the flesh, and the track’s ghostly aura, which evokes the slow spin of a disco ball from a brat pack prom scene, was lost in crowd noise.
But when he closed out the “somber” half of the set with album opener “My Old Man,” the crowd was swaying in unison, hypnotized by the subtly enthralling drum machine, the chugging acoustic guitar, and DeMarco’s precocious bald spot, which seemed to have doubled in size since the start of the show.
The spell was broken by crowd favorite “Ode to Viceroy,” and from there, things only got sillier. A bra, thrown on stage by an admirer, served as head gear for the keyboard player. An obnoxiously bright neon fidget spinner was launched from the balcony that somehow landed safely at DeMarco’s feet. He picked it up and spun it expertly, and it became another prop for the rest of the show.
Part II of the set ran rife with ridiculous covers. Most noteworthy was Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” which clocked in at almost ten minutes, though it quickly became clear that the only lyric DeMarco remembered was, “Making my way downtown.” Others included ACDC’s “Back to Black,” Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” and Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper.”
Most of these golden oldies were strung together in a medley on “Still Together,” which is (ironically) the sweetest, softest song on 2. It served as a kind of victory lap, during which the band members took off their shirts, two members crowd surfed, and DeMarco finally went full Mac.
Throughout the set, he ingested the lion’s share of a fifth of Jameson, and it seemed to hit him all at once. Over the course of about 20 minutes, he played the drums, hid inside the drum bag, made out with his keyboard player, and committed heinous crimes against his microphone. (He punted it like a football, used the cable as a jump rope, and finally rubbed the grill against his gut, yelling, "What happened to my body?!?!"
The final treat of the set was Yuki’s triumphant return to the stage. DeMarco welcomed him with open arms, fastening the band bra (from earlier, remember?) around his chest before jumping on his back and riding him in circles, all the while smothering him with kisses on the cheek and neck, Was it bullying? Maybe. Was it fun to watch? In context, you bet it was.
The outrageous finale proved that no matter how serious Mac DeMarco’s subject matter gets, the man himself will stay goofy to the grave.