On Thursday, May 9, on the eve of his new album release, Mac DeMarco performed at the McDonald Theater in downtown Eugene. Aside from crafting a setlist of old hits and fan favorites, he also took the time to dive heavily into songs from his latest project, the bizarre and tightly-focused “Here Comes the Cowboy.”
For almost a decade now, DeMarco has been goofing off in public. His laid-back indie rock — akin to a hypnagogic Steely Dan or a Canadian Jimmy Buffett — has always come in tandem with his eccentric personality. On Thursday night, his goofball persona was certainly on display. During the first part of his eventual two-and-a-half-hour set, his humor came through in subtle ways.
The show began around 9 p.m. with “Here Comes the Cowboy,” the title-track and opener of his latest album. DeMarco plucked a half-ironic country riff on his acoustic guitar, encouraging the audience to sing along to the song’s repeated lyric. It took a second for everyone to adjust to the vibe, having never heard the song before. But soon enough, the whole audience was along for the ride.
On “Salad Days,” DeMarco grabbed his electric guitar, leading the crowd in the much more familiar tune. The energy ramped up even further on the upbeat songs “Cookin’ Up Something Good” and “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name.”
Considering the relaxed and carefree nature of the music, DeMarco’s energetic audience came as a surprise. At Thursday’s show, the crowd-surfacing was almost incessant. But the rambunctious behavior didn’t seem to phase DeMarco one bit.
He asked the crowd if the emphasis in “Eugene” was on the first or second syllable — it was on the first, according to one emphatic audience member. DeMarco and his band also read from a book about Oregon birds, which someone had tossed up on stage.
DeMarco got a chance to showcase his more thoughtful side with the subdued music of his latest record. He performed the majority of these songs with an acoustic guitar. Here, the tightness of his backing band shined through, as they played with a cohesion that was noticeably tight but never over-rehearsed.
DeMarco himself often brought new life to his music with alternate arrangements. On “All of Our Yesterdays,” he swapped out the minimal production of the album version in favor of a jazzed-up chorus and danceable backbeat.
Towards the end of the song, DeMarco picked up his electric guitar again and closed things out with a solo. It was a refreshing change, as he often limits his talent to a humble rhythm guitar during live performances.
Later on in the night, he brought in a deep cut with “Rock and Roll Night Club,” a track from his 2012 debut mini-LP. A performance of “Ode to Viceroy,” a quintessential song in DeMarco’s cigarette-smoking mythos, found a contemplative quietness in its final verse and chorus. He also performed a few of his Haruomi Hosono-inspired tracks: “On the Level” and “My Old Man.”
Things took a turn for the weird, however, in the latter half of the night — all in true Mac DeMarco fashion.
A newer song, “Choo Choo,” encapsulated a lot this energy. DeMarco introduced it as a song about a train. It was a sort of bastardized funk track with falsetto vocals and train whistle. He likes to joke around. This song can be found on the new album.
He closed out his main set with a performance of “Still Together.”
After the final chord, DeMarco’s drummer and guitarist — Joe McMurray and Andy White, respectively — remained on stage for a type of noise-rock jam. The rest of the band then came back out and seamlessly transitioned into a series of Misfits covers. White was on vocals at this point. The whole concert had morphed into a punk show.
The fans took it all in stride, moshing together while DeMarco himself took off his shirt and put on a bra. For most of this time, he was off to the side messing around on the keyboard. Eventually, he took a bass drum case from backstage and climbed in it to crowd surf all the way to the rear of the venue; he gave his soundman a kiss and then traveled back to the front.
After all of this, the whole band reprised the chorus of “Still Together” once more, as if this whole stunt had been one twenty-minute version of the song, Misfits covers and all. That was the true conclusion of his main set. But the night didn’t end there.
DeMarco made time for a one-song encore, the heartbreaking “Watching Him Fade Away.” He made everyone in the audience sit down on the floor for this one while he took a seat on the stage monitor.
There was a rambling monologue mixed in with the lyrics: something about life and death, extremely old people using tinder, life-extension technology and wedding anniversaries after one or two hundred years.
The crowd was obedient during all of this, staying quiet when DeMarco brought things down to an abnormally low volume. The moment was a testament to his talent. For as much as he goofs around, people are willing to listen. He really is one hell of a performer.
It was a sobering experience and a nice comedown from a chaotic and extended concert. He made his way out with one final remark: “Real recognize real. God bless.”