There are few artists whose sound check could feel like part of their performance, much less an indoctrination. Mac DeMarco and his band are among that select – they were the only group at the Hideout Block Party whose pre-show noodling and goofing around captivated their audience as much as the music they’d play.
This is no exaggeration. Before most of the instruments were even plugged in, the audience was already taken with their charms to the point of idolatry. One particularly enthusiastic guy behind me was moved by every small miracle: “Dude, I fuckin’ love Mac. He’s a god!” came when DeMarco lit his second cigarette. “Dude, look at his fuckin’ bass player” celebrated the chicken legs of Pierce McGarry, who donned a pretty rad floppy pink hat and too-short shorts. A soft-featured girl edged closer and closer to the stage, with a letter she’d written for Mac, B-sided by a hand drawn portrait.
When Master of Ceremonies and proud papa Tim Tuten took the stage to introduce the four guys who we’d just spent fifteen minutes in rapture of, he had already mentioned that it was the 18th year of the Hideout Block Party about nine times throughout the day. This particular iteration was special, heightened by the fact that the average audience member who packed in to watch this set was younger than (or best case, as old as) the festival they were attending.
Tim loved it. “You have been inoculated, whether you know it or not,” he proclaimed in praise of DeMarco’s obvious influence over the next voting generation. His reverence for this demographic was also a nice reminder of what sets the Block Party apart from other summer festivals – Tim’s introduction showed that he respected the passion and perspective of these recent high school graduates (or rising juniors and seniors) and wanted to give them as much a chance at their heroes as the older partiers who’d show up for Dismemberment Plan later in the evening.
When Mac and the boys finally struck the first chords of “Salad Days,” the roller coaster took off. The vibe among the younger majority felt like they were seeing their cool student-teacher (or their best friend’s older brother) in his element. DeMarco was endeared to them by his proximity to their own experiences, but with enough years on them (Mac is 24) to know a little better how to articulate their struggles, their simple pleasures.
It also helped that DeMarco is just a funny, nice, charming dude with friends that you want to be friends with, too. Nobody on the stage took themselves that seriously. They played tightly, but not without the room for a series of goofy emotive faces during a guitar solo or self-consciously ‘cool’ winks to the audience. While McGarry changed a broken string, the rest of the band played a rendition of “Jenny,” because of course. The absence of ego created an open invitation for the audience to be themselves and the band’s natural ease and likability kept everyone positive and feeling validated. The soft-featured girl got her portrait to Mac in between songs because when he looked out at the crowd, he was ready to listen and interact. That’s how the band found out that it was a kid’s 18th birthday, to whom they sang “Happy Birthday.” Guitarist Peter Sagar made a (AT MOST) 15-year old girl’s dreams come true by asking to borrow her sunglasses to fight off the mid-day sun. Mac even opened the stage up for a dude who knew the words to the Bob Marley song the band was vamping on, giving him the chance to shine. Which he did.
As Tim mentioned, DeMarco’s resonance with the next voting generation is huge and bodes well for the future cool-dad populace. Though on the surface Mac and his gang of goofs could be seen as runoff from the hipster-led classic rock revival, there’s a deep authenticity and un-ironically uncool sincerity to them. They aren’t thinking about how much fun they’re having at the party, they’re just at the party and having fun. The band’s evolution from 2 to Salad Days proves they have more to say and their strengths as live performers seal at least another few years in the spotlight.
After their set, my friend Racquel weighed the possibility of whether or not Mac, assuming he continues to create songs that speak from his true experience rather than to an aesthetic, could become a new generation’s Paul Simon – a figurehead whose audience grows with him and who is accessible because he writes about what happened to him that day, rather than to the person he used to be. Having just witnessed the effect he has had on his listeners so far, I’d have to say it’s entirely possible. Worst case scenario, he’ll be the new Steve Miller – able to capture exactly what a specific group of people lived like in a specific time, whose discography stand as a document that gets dusted off for anniversary tours.