Mac DeMarco: A (Second) Night at the Riv

Photos & article by Morgan Ciocca

Mac DeMarco played two back-to-back shows at the Riviera Theater in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood on Saturday, Sep. 28 and Sunday, Sep. 29 in support of his sixth full-length studio album, “Here Comes the Cowboy.”

McBriare Samuel Lanyon – better known as “Mac” – DeMarco has been a prominent figure the indie music community for nearly the past decade, stemming from the 2012 releases of “Rock and Roll Night Club” and “2.” The Canadian singer-songwriter has scarcely stopped releasing music since, putting out a new album nearly every other year.

While clearly differing from DeMarco’s earlier works, “Here Comes The Cowboy,” released May 29, retains the artist’s signature simplicity of “four chords and a dinky guitar line.” The bulk of the album is slow-paced, relating more to the latter half of his discography – think 2015’s “Another One” and 2017’s “This Old Dog” – than the earlier. Still, Mac’s music has a personality entirely its own and each of his songs is recognizable within the first couple of notes.

Although DeMarco’s music will surely go down in the indie music hall of fame, he doesn’t consider himself to be anything special; this is surely evident in his unassuming wardrobe consisting of beat-up vans, band tees and blue jeans, as well as his humility when discussing his work as an artist.

“I’ve always tried to minimize hero worship. It’s stupid. We’re all at this show together. I’m sorry I’m on this raised floor,” said DeMarco in an interview with Huck Magazine. “You could do this, too. Kids are doing it. A lot of bands out there sound like Uncle Mac-y!”

DeMarco and his band, drummer Joe McMurray, bassist Jon Lent, guitarist and keyboardist Andy White and keyboardist Alex Meen, walked onstage at the Riviera Sunday to a room of ecstatic cheering fans for the second night in a row.

Sunday’s set kicked off with “Here Comes the Cowboy,” the opening and title track of his new album, and the audience – many of whom had come prepared with cowboy hats – was electric with smiles and singing, reflecting the happiness of DeMarco grooving along onstage.

“We’re gonna play a rock n’ roll show for you all tonight,” DeMarco said with his signature gap-toothed grin as he explained that he wanted to play some different songs than the night before. The set was filled with DeMarco’s usual antics – including, but not limited to, a handstand, unintelligible screaming into the microphone, spastic dance moves … and declarations of love for Al’s Italian beef sandwiches.

“Possibly the best American sandwich? I think so,” DeMarco said with a laugh, before dedicating the “Here Comes the Cowboy”’s poetic love song, “K,” to the very sandwiches he so adores.

Midway through the show, during “Choo Choo,” the band welcomed to the stage Alex Brettin of Mild High Club, a native Chicagoan and close friend of DeMarco.

Upon first listen, “Choo Choo” appears to be a song lacking much emotional or metaphorical depth, and it might be. That being said, the song’s live performance lent to it a kind of depth that can only be understood through experience; the musicians turned the two-and-a-half minute track into what felt like a 20-minute basement jam session.

The musicians closed their set with “Still Together” and exited the stage with a wave goodbye, but the crowd wouldn’t let him get away that easily. In no time at all began the familiar chant of “One more song! One more song!” – prompting DeMarco, shirtless, to run back onstage, followed closely by McMurray, Lent, White and Meen, to play one last song.

The band began ripping into a track they hadn’t played in about eight years called “She’s Really All I Need,” originally a romantic demo-sounding song from DeMarco’s debut release, “Rock and Roll Night Club.”

Mac and his band breathed new life into “She’s Really All I Need” with a rendition hardly recognizable when compared to the album’s recording. Whereas the song’s original version is dreamy and lullaby-sounding, Sunday’s live performance drew influences from heavy rock with looser, more metal-oriented tones and intense guitar riffs.

“She’s Really All I Need” was truly the “sexy rock n’ roll show ending” DeMarco promised the audience, complete with a mosh pit and crowd surfers, after which he ran offstage with an “Okay, bye bye!” and an air-kiss to the audience.

While his recordings have been listened to a countless number of times by fans worldwide, Mac DeMarco is arguably a better live performer than his recorded work may suggest. He and his band essentially recomposed several songs – most notably “My Kind of Woman” and “She’s Really All I Need” – during their set Sunday night, adding an extra layer of appreciation for the uniqueness of their live performances.

DeMarco and co. radiated a feeling of genuine kindness and familiarity through friendly banter and unpretentious attitudes, as well as their unabashed declarations of love for the city of Chicago.

“Guess what? We played here last night, we’re playing here tonight … and tomorrow, we got the day off in your beautiful city. Who could ask for more?”

DeMarco will continue touring in support of “Here Comes the Cowboy” throughout 2019, traversing the globe from Iceland to Australia until April 2020.

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