Two songs into Mac DeMarco’s set at Manchester’s Roadhouse on Friday, a member of the extremely self-consciously “rough’n’ready” crowd yelled, “gg allin!” presumably alluding to Mac’s oft-told story about sticking two drumsticks up his bum at a gig. (It’s the subject of his song “Freaking Out the Neighborhood”.) “Heh, any girls wanna come up here and get raped?” Mac responded. “Just kidding, we don’t rape people in Canada.”
At that point, two friends we had come with walked off, coolly observing the rest of the gig from the bar area. (Though there’s not that much distinction in the crusty Roadhouse, whose tacky floor seems to slope downwards the further away from the stage you stand.) I thought for a while about whether DeMarco’s “just kidding” had saved the remark (Canada is hardly exempt from rape), and whether I could continue enjoying the gig; he’s not a musician I like for his personality at all (in this week’s NME, he tells some grim anecdotes about getting bladder infections from when he worked at a vet’s, and would often go for a wank during breaks without washing his hands), but the podunk sleaziness of it (which I do appreciate in his very funny videos) seems in a way to accentuate the quality of his music, and I really love both of his records. (Which, in light of the rape comment, is an absurd ratio, I know— it definitely did not make me appreciate his music any more.) When I saw him support Diiv last year, he stumbled, swayed, and lolled around the stage in between songs in a way that did not fill you with anticipation for his next song, which he’d then pull off with unbecoming grace and skill, the talented jackass— at one point, his guitarist broke a string, and Mac improvised a pretty accomplished jazzy fill while he sorted it out, his gap-toothed smile bared the whole time.
At certain Manchester gigs, there’s this striving air among some quarters of the crowd that I’ve been trying to pin down. On Friday, I realised there was definitely an element of self-consciousness to it: I’m going to a Mac DeMarco gig, and I’m going to wear a scutty denim/shearling jacket, and peak my baseball cap at a cool 48 degree angle. It’s funny that the name of a classic punk was invoked, since there weren’t really any present at the show. (An illustrative aside: My boyfriend went to the toilet before the show, and saw Mac DeMarco at the urinals. Complying by the Unspoken Laws of Not Talking to Other Men at the Urinal (and the fact that John isn’t that enamoured of making conversation with scuzzy little indie boys), he didn’t say anything. However, two young men entered, one lairy, one polite, and started talking to Mac, wangers in hand. “The whole aura that he has around him permeated that exchange, it was really peculiar,” John said. “It made me feel really creepy!”)
Obviously, the packed front few rows loved the “rape joke,” (a term that seems to call for Daily Mail scare quotes if I ever saw one), and goaded Mac into more. He played the next few songs (I forget which ones) with enough competency, breaking in between two to tell us that we were celebrating with him today— he’d just found out he was going to be a father in nine months time. The girlfriend of a friend we were with at the show had been partying with Mac the night before at the Great Escape in Brighton, so we exchanged faux-sympathetic looks. Mac continued, exposing the remark as a fib (I can’t remember it verbatim): “Yeah, I got a text today… From a stripper in Las Vegas…” More uproarious cheers.
Perhaps it’s projecting too much onto this weird little dude who protects himself with gross stories and an obviously fake name, but the more people cheered for him, the more he seemed to want to misbehave. (One of the bar-retiring friends thought the opposite, that he could only see the front few rows, unaware of the folded arms at the back, and played to those who appeared to love him.) After he had gone through about six songs, the gig fell to pieces; he and his band attempted to rattle through shoddy half-covers of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and a few others (seemed like what the Roadhouse’s stage would usually be used for), and then the bassist (I think - it was impossible to see) took the mic for a couple of truly terrible, yelped punk-ish songs. At one point, the front half of the crowd started booing, but it was complicit and comedic, not sincerely pissed-off. It ended in a sloppy, defeated mess, no encore.
It was a terrible performance, but that term makes me think of when parents tell off their kids for acting out, a hissed, “Thanks for that little performance.” In some ways, it’s refreshing to see a young indie rock act completely messing up their own show, not striving in any way, balking at adoration, no matter how relatively small. There are too many bands of his stripe who claim to be non-conformists, but willingly lay prone while they’re carried through the requisite seas of hype, grouching at it while complying. (Hi again, Diiv!) The whole performance came off as a young man’s dumb joke, at the expense of other young, dumb men. If he doesn’t lose the rape jokes, that’s all it’ll ever stay. Which would be a shame.
wow, who could have seen this coming