The hype around Canadian indie-rocker Mac DeMarco makes sense – the 23-year-old has built a reputation for taking his dreamy, mellow pop songs and turning them into reckless, raucous performances. Compared to his audience on Monday night at the Middle East Downstairs, DeMarco looked particularly weary. The songs on his newest album, “Salad Days,” released on April 1, warrant a more delicate, love-struck approach than his past material. Much of the audience, chanting his name and aggressively pushing into position before DeMarco had finished setting up his pedals, had a hard time grasping this. They wanted DeMarco, the clown; DeMarco, meanwhile, just wanted listeners.
Shaggy-haired and giving a gap-toothed grin, DeMarco opened the sold-out show with the album’s title track, sprucing it up with catchy Kinks-esque “la-las.” Most of DeMarco’s selections from the new album were saturated in poppy guitar riffs and crooner vocals similar to tracks off of his 2012 album, “2.” “Salad Days” single “Passing Out the Pieces,” took a more synth-heavy tack, illuminating the loose retro style DeMarco has claimed as his own, just slack and upbeat enough to carry the emotional detachment of his lyrics.
Interspersed in the set were some of DeMarco’s earlier crowd-pleasers, like the bass-filled “Cooking Up Something Good,” and “Ode to Viceroy,” (his favorite Canadian cigarettes). The boost in energy encouraged a slew of crowd surfers and cigarette packs to be lobbed toward the stage. DeMarco played into the upswing, egging all the “frat boys” to take off their shirts and throw them on stage, and occasionally busting out an English accent to call his devotees “peasants.”
During set closer “Still Together,” he crowdsurfed over the roaring throng, clinging to a low hanging pipe like a sloth. When he made it back to the stage, he belted out the last falsetto hook. effortlessly.
For his encore, DeMarco took on Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend,” and commanded his audience to kneel in deference. “You may think Neil’s yours,” he shouted, “but guess what, he’s from Canada!” With that, DeMarco and his bandmates chastised those who stayed standing – even the bartender.
It was a fitting reminder that while loved for his easy, breezy, goofball charm, DeMarco is a performer of surprising command.
Alex Stills can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.