The week of Vancouver homecomings* continued on Friday with the first of two sold-out Mac DeMarco shows at the Commodore Ballroom. (On the same night, the city’s favourite freak-rocker Johnny de Courcy also returned, with a more intimate set somewhere on Main and Hastings.) But Friday’s Mac DeMarco show wasn’t just a homecoming. It was one hell of a reunion too. His old Makeout Videotape bandmates opened: fellow Edmontonian Alex Calder, Jen Twynn Payne with her locally ubiquitous group the Courtneys, and Walter TV, whose members Pierce McGarry and Joe McMurray used to play in DeMarco’s touring band.
Although Walter TV’s vibes were unseasonably summery (which perked the crowd up right away), they had an off-kilter twist. The guitars never sounded quite steady, and a distorted mic manipulated their lead vocals into a quiver that was often delivered in spastic bursts, not unlike Animal Collective or Tyondai Braxton on Battles’ frenetic album Mirrored. Comparing bands may be a lazy way to describe music, but slackerism was apropos of the night.
Next, I witnessed something many Tegan and Sara fans had already seen: the Courtneys on a big stage – that is, something that wasn’t the floor of a record store or a slab of pavement under a canopy.
The Courtneys always seem to add some unfamiliar tunes to their sets. Without seizing every possible chance to catch the Flying Nun-indebted trio, unlike their most devoted fans, it can be easy to feel left the lurch. “Nu Sundae” and “Lost Boys” made it into the mix, but the band’s unfamiliar, or less familiar, songs went over just as well (as is usually the case).
Although weed started flaring up and bodies started lurching forward during the Courtneys’ final song, Alex Calder, being the chillest act of the night, tempered the mood. “Save your energy,” his placement on the bill seemed to say.
Calder’s standard repertoire doesn’t veer too far from Mac DeMarco’s languid guitar-pop, but Calder’s is more subdued. He played a few new songs that hooked the crowd more than his other material though (besides a more rocking version of “Marcel”) including a faithful cover of “Crest” by English art-rockers Stereolab. For a few minutes, with this cleanly strummed tune and its uptempo drumbeat, Calder gave the crowd the exact energy they craved.
An entire squad of Darth Mauls emerged, including one shirtless Sith Lord. Unfortunately, there were no double-bladed Lightsabers, but there were plenty of chairs. And a round table. As the Mauls found their instruments, a procession of familiar faces from Vancouver’s art-punk scene, mostly dressed as nuns, filed out behind the band and settled into a prime, comfortable view of their old pal Mac DeMarco.
DeMarco opened his set the same way his “mini-LP” Another One does, with “The Way You’d Love Her”. More tracks from Another One followed including “No Other Heart” and the title-track. Then came some old favourites like “Ode To Viceroy”. On “Freaking Out the Neighbourhood”, he joined in the crowd-surfing which had really started picking up steam. As a mob of sweaty hands buoyed DeMarco, he continued banging out the song’s catchy riff.
Somewhere, another regular sight at Mac DeMarco shows occurred: a can of beer popped and fizzed through the air. He then spat water on some lucky fans near the front. A Mac DeMarco show probably wouldn’t be complete unless a person went home wet one way or another.
Things escalated further when his bassist climbed atop a stack of speakers on the left side of the stage. He jumped down about six feet, crashed on top of a fan’s head, and knocked the person’s glasses clean off of his face. Here was a Sith Lord with a heart as he apologized profusely. The “victim” only seemed thrilled though – thrilled enough to have sung along to “Salad Days” as loudly as everyone else.
This was Mac DeMarco on Halloween eve. It’s tough to imagine how he and the rest of the bands might have outdone themselves on actual Hallow’s Eve. Maybe they brought their Lightsabers. Maybe they brought the whole damned Death Star.
*Although Mac DeMarco is from Edmonton, he spent three formative years in Vancouver where he, Alex Calder, and Jen Twynn Payne came together as Makeout Videotape.