You wonder how Mac DeMarco feels about all the dudes dressing like him. It began as an itch upon arriving at the cacophonous space that is the House of Vans in Greenpoint, a sense that something in the universe tilted slightly askew, and then you saw it—or maybe you were it: So many dudes dressed like the dudes on stage. And here the deployment of the epithet “dude” is not merely colloquial, it is downright descriptive for a band and fans who use the phrase “hang out” in the way behavioral scientists use, “longitudinal research”. It's a promise, an investigation, an episteme: We are going to hang out. And many of the dudes hanging out at the House of Vans sported DeMarco's signature ratty flat brim baseball cap, maybe ironically festooned with the name of a diner in Key Largo or a fishing hole in Georgia. Some even had a shock of greasy hair pouring like a waterfall over their collars, cigarettes held by just their lips as they twirled, arms in figure-eights. It was animal science: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. Species dude.
There is, of course, nothing new about fans following the aesthetic choices of their favorite artists, and Demarco's brand of normcore seems merely to have seized, resonated with or maybe even created this particular moment in the ongoing forgotten history of Brooklyn. DeMarco wore a Simpsons t-shirt, Dad jeans and his hat. A dude behind me gushed, “Mac DeMarco is a phenomenon,” before asking why the volume was so low. Maybe he missed the memo on how to “chill” when he bought his hat, or maybe the fifty-foot industrial-sized fan above the audience hadn't cooled his evening's ambitions; a breezy series of guitar licks came from the stage to match the wind overhead, but it did little to diminish the sense that something was definitely happening. People dressed for it in advance, or maybe they looked like this all the time. The question was: How many of these people were in on the joke? Or were these people the joke and didn't know it?
DeMarco embraced the moment with his unique brand of earnest irony, opening with “Salad Day” from his most recent record of the same name. He wouldn't destroy the idea he was trying and enjoying himself, but he also wouldn't admit that this was anything more than some guys playing some stupid guitar songs. Mac DeMarco, like his guitar melodies, rarely moves in a straight line for long. The band blew through, “Stars Keep On Calling My Name”, “Blue Boy” and “Treat Her Better Boy”. Front-loading the set with Salad Days material, DeMarco moved to “Passing Out The Pieces” and “Let Her Go”. This last song, a jam that DeMarco allegedly doesn't even like, he prefaced by screaming, “Do you want to hear some rock and roll? That's what we're here to do.” This last move was hardest to pin, pumping the audience before playing the single he felt his label Captured Tracks pushed him to produce. Was it a subtle “fuck you”? Did he want his audience, the dudes dressed like him, to go wild, while he privately thought, “This is the kind of mainstream shit I never wanted to write, fuckers.” Was the joke on us? A conundrum, it was enough to make a dude take off his hat. But he threw it on stage, to be picked up and worn sideways, on top of his already existing one, by DeMarco's bassist, Pierce McGarry. DeMarco yelled, “This next song is dedicated to President Obama … Yeah, oh yeah!”, a joking sycophancy for a politician that he, and his crowd, almost uniformly agree with. One of the first ways of understanding Mac DeMarco involves the fact that he ironically supports things he actually likes, the same way you might wear a t-shirt of the Killers, Tears for Fears or Coldplay.
It was this last band that appeared in the form of an impromtu cover as DeMarco bent down to tune his guitar. McGarry looked to guitarist Pete Sagar, saying, “Play your song … It's not your song, it's everyone's song” before breaking into the sloppiest and best cover of Coldplay's “Yellow”. The crowd knew all the words and sung along, a moment that brought irony and authenticity together if only briefly; it embarrassed no one. This moment required none of the critical filters of “Let Her Go” as DeMarco joined in for the last chorus: “Look how they shine for you”. Another hat went on stage.
The set finished with a mix of deeper cuts from Salad Days and the previous two records, 2 and Rock and Roll Night Club. DeMarco and his band pounded through “I'm a Man”, inviting the audience to see McGarry's band later in the evening at Baby's Alright a mile to the south with the exhortation, “If you don't want to hang out, then fuck you!”. The set moved to “Freaky Neighborhood What's Up” and the appropriate, “Chamber of Reflection” where his crowd spun in the song's psych jams and wondered, maybe for a minute, about the mirroring of the dudes in the hats watching the dudes in the hats. The song's chorus, “Alone Again” withered under the deep duality of performer and audience. You are never alone in a Mac DeMarco hat.
Closing with a punched up version of “Still Together”, DeMarco first thanked the audience “from the bottom of his heart”. This last bit seemed real, earnest and exposed even. The song's crystalline chorus sent DeMarco to the top of his range, breaking seamlessly down from his falsetto and into his natural voice, nailing each tonal half-step on the way down. Behind and despite all of the bullshit, Mac DeMarco is an immensely talented dude. He urged the audience through one final chorus—”Together” the song's titular lyric that channels “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”—before throwing himself forward and crowd surfing what had become a pit of bouncing fans. This was the wondering disunity of “Chamber of Reflection” becoming “Still Together” as the hat brigade held up their drum major. It was a dude united with his dudes. In that moment the joke was on all of us, artist and audience both. The joke was us.
For more photos from Mac DeMarco's House of Vans performance go here.