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Review Fri Apr 04 2014
"Mannish Boy"-cum-groove-pop-troubadour Mac Demarco strolled through town on Wednesday night for two sold-out shows at the Empty Bottle, and we were there for the late show to take in the scene in all its buzzed-about and sullied-up glory. Opener and Captured Tracks labelmate Juan Wauters set the tone with some inspired lo-fi jams before jetting off for a quieter show uptown, and reports from the excellent Amen Dunes' set from the earlier show were positive, with Demarco and co. effusing nothing but praise to the Dunes throughout their set.
Appearing on the back of the just-released Salad Days, the newly long-haired Demarco and his equally shaggy band of mates graced the stage bedecked in over-sized shirts and thrift-store caps, laying down their mix of party-ready numbers and actually-sincere bedroom crooning ("Brother"). True to form (or at least satisfying the demands of his increasingly public persona), Demarco played the role of able maestro to the night's affairs, addressing the audience with a mix of slapdash confidence through sips of bourbon and coke (courtesy of the front row), potty humor (with help from touring bassist/ex-Makeout Videotape bandmate Pierce McGarry), and his by-now equally trademark "thank-you-ladies-and-gentleman" showmaster schtick. Contrasted against his goofy off-the-cuff covers of butt-rock jams like "Smoke On The Water," newcomers to the Demarco tent might have been thrown off by his ever-shifting persona onstage (polite vs. abrasive; slow-jamming gentleman vs. punk-ish agitator) but it's those same contradictions that often make the act (not to mention the songs) work as well as it has so far.
Demarco's spoken at length in recent interviews about trying to shed his unwashed-party-boy-next-door image in approaching a new plateau in his career, out of preference to a newer maturity in his songwriting and his own increasing ambition. While the band's on-stage attitude was nothing if not youthful, occasionally sloppy, and at times immature (read: fun), the newer songs spoke to the young songwriter's increasing focus on growth and adulthood: New standouts "Let Her Go" and "Chamber of Reflection" showcased Demarco's knack for easy melody and simple, direct subject matter in the wake of his rapid public ascent over the past two years. Smartly, Demarco and the band split the set between old favorites ("Rock 'n' Roll Nightclub," "The Stars Keep On Calling My Name," and the ubiquitous, smoke-laden "Ode to Viceroy") and newer material, occasionally fighting shrill feedback from the house system but maintaining a good-natured vibe through it all. You'd never guess Demarco's touring band didn't play on these records, either, where Demarco supposedly records every part himself; the band does such a good job of replicating the slow, slippery jams and vibrato guitar tones of tracks like "Cookin' Up Something Good" and "Viceroy" that you would never really know the difference. Luckily, the live band has its own feel (and reputation) at this point, and Demaraco's live act thrives all the better from its assured mix of loose spontaneity, tight showmanship, and jokes about cocaine.
By the time Demarco jumped into the crowd for a lengthy surf around the entirety of the Bottle's packed walls during a loose vamp in set closer "Still Together," the audience was as riled as it had been all night. It's probably a safe bet to assume Demarco will play to at least a crowd this size next time he's in town, as Wednesday night's crowd was only too eager to grab a piece of the guy while he was still willing and eager to pass them out.