After ascending the steps to the top of The Durham Hotel last Monday, I emerged onto an ornately decorated rooftop bar with charming Southern patio furniture, the setting for Murmur Radio’s live podcast event with guest Mac DeMarco. As the podcast began, host Robert Milazzo attempted to ease the audience’s jitters by cracking a few jokes and informing us of DeMarco’s whereabouts.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Mac emerged, bobbing his head along to the clip of his single “One Another,” dressed in his signature laid-back style: a navy corduroy jacket, baggy Carhartt pants, grey vans and his infamous distressed baseball cap. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of the ritzy hotel rooftop, he stuck out like a sore thumb.
The interview encapsulated DeMarco’s good-natured persona as he spoke on North Carolina’s hospitality, reminiscing over playing at the Duke Coffeehouse in 2014 and classifying Durham as one of the nicer cities he’s visited on tour. Despite DeMarco’s growing popularity, an aspect of his career that indie purists are not especially pleased with, he retained a humble perspective when asked about playing the coveted Radio City Music Hall just days earlier.
“Radio City, I think, is a little too precious for my stuff,” he joked. “Pretty weird, pretty fancy, it was a good experience … maybe. I guess it looks good on your resume and my mom was proud of me.”
When asked about which actors he would like to meet since his recent move to Los Angeles, he listed stars including Al Pacino and Robert De Niro and further noted his affinity for David Lynch and the show “Twin Peaks.” Wrapping up the podcast, DeMarco reluctantly agreed to perform one verse of “Still Together,” a song from his 2012 album “2,” before his departure.
Not bothering to wait for the elevator, I dashed down the stairs in a frenzy, hurrying out of the door toward the Carolina Theatre. Mac DeMarco was performing at the Theatre after the live podcast, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to secure a decent spot in the pit. Out of the corner of my eye, I witnessed a scene straight from a ‘90s pop-punk music video, à la Green Day’s “When I Come Around” — three men striding alongside each other in baggy pants, the guy in the center with one hand in his pocket, the other gripping a pack of Marlboro Reds. It struck me that I was walking directly behind Mac DeMarco.
“Hey Mac, it’s really nice to meet you,” I muttered meekly, shaking his hand. Smiling down at me, I noticed how tired he looked, the constant smoking not kind to his aging visage, but his eyes still gleaming with youthful mischief. Making trivial small talk on the way to the venue, my anxiousness was eased by his personability.
Parting ways as we arrived at the venue, I stepped inside the Carolina Theatre, immediately noting how the intricate gold engravings that bordered the stage clashed with the throngs of fans. Ripped denim, “vintage tops” and Vans adorned almost every attendee — there was an almost humorous sense of irony in observing the homogeneity within a subculture that prides itself in individuality and anti-commercial values. Securing a spot in the second row of the sparsely populated pit, I waited for the opening band to take the stage.
The Garden, the flamboyant opening act, dominated the stage with their eclectic synergy of electronic and punk music. Thirty minutes after the Garden’s set, the house lights dimmed and fans raised their beers to cheer the long-awaited arrival of Mac DeMarco. Mac stomped onto the stage, greeting the fans with a hearty hello, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
The set began with the mellow tune “On the Level” from his latest album, “This Old Dog,” the jangly guitar and hypnotic vocals drawing in the crowd and gripping its attention. “This Old Dog” has been regarded by critics as DeMarco’s most serious body of work yet, making his transition from the melancholic tune to the exuberant track “Salad Days” all the more exhilarating for the rambunctious audience.
Throwing off his cap and tousling his bedhead, DeMarco epitomized the slacker-rock subgenre. Stringing together a diverse set of his works, Mac effortlessly transitioned from mystifying the audience with groovy riffs to entertaining us with his trademarked bizarre stage antics. Hurling his lighter onstage, opening a beer bottle with his teeth, screeching wildly into the microphone and kissing bandmates and audience members alike, the 27-year-old did not disappoint in creating an outlandish stage persona that caused even his most avid fans to question his sanity.
The stage was not equipped with fancy lighting or intricate displays. DeMarco’s music dazzled on its own with raw and uptempo takes on some of his softer tunes, including “Cooking Up Something Good” and “Freaking out the Neighborhood.” Perhaps the most shocking part of the night was the singer’s decision not to stage dive, often seen as the hallmark of his shows.
Although attributing this to being “sicker than a fish,” DeMarco’s performance quality was not hindered, still smoothly belting out the haunting “Chamber of Reflection” and throwing in distorted renditions of classic rock tunes including Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”
As his set ended, there was a clear sense of togetherness within the audience, a definite feel-good vibe that permeated throughout the venue. As DeMarco and his bandmates gave their final bows, there was a clear audible consensus from the audience: “That was amazing.”
There was no encore — another missing staple of a Mac DeMarco concert — but he did stick around after the show. Back in his go-to corduroy jacket and tattered baseball cap, DeMarco greeted the twenty-or-so of us with open arms, patiently signing autographs, cracking jokes and taking pictures.
“You again?” he quipped as I approached. Tightly embracing as we took our picture, he turned to me, smiled warmly and said, “God bless you.”