Concert Review: Mac DeMarco and The Flaming Lips

Canadian multi-instrumentalist Mac DeMarco

Coverage by: Waylon O’Day and Julian Combong

Revenetion Center was the place to be Friday night as two titans of indie music descended upon the Bayou City, the enigmatic Mac Demarco, and the legendary Flaming Lips.

The night began with the Polish duo, The Garden Twins, an exciting group that got the crowd amped up for the later acts. The band’s music is extremely eclectic as they channeled everything from Talking Heads to Death Grips. By the time the act exited the stage, they had made quite the impression on the crowd. The Garden Twins are easily one of the best openers I have ever seen, I imagine we will see them again very soon, hopefully headlining their own tour.

Mac DeMarco’s aesthetic and the culture he carries with him is best described as thrifty, purposely looking raggedy with a hint of “I’m just kinda here” sprinkled in to give off a vibe that makes him seem like the cool goofball relative you wish you had. His sound projects that same vibe by using twangy in-but-not-in tune guitars, punchy pronounced bass lines and drums coupled with vocals that complete his signature sound. On Friday, September 29, I was able to catch Mac DeMarco at Revention Music Center, complete with all the live shenanigans he brings that you can’t appreciate through his studio albums alone.

Mac DeMarco opened up for The Flaming Lips, touring his newest album This Old Dog, which released earlier in the year. A major departure from his earlier albums 2 and Salad Days, the new album delivers by cutting back on the twangy guitars and adding more keys/piano, all while retaining the same punchy rhythm section he’s known for. The carefree laid-back nature is still apparent in his sound, but the addition and subtraction of the aforementioned instruments showcases a more mature sound than before.

Around 9 PM, Mac DeMarco took the stage alongside his touring band members Joe McMurray (drums), Andy White (guitar), Jon Lent, (bass guitar), and newcomer Alec Leen (keyboard/piano). Mac introduced the band to the crowd, telling the crowd how it’s been almost 2 years since they last came to Houston. After his introduction, which also included some moral support towards Hurricane Harvey, the band kicked off their set with the synth-driven song, “On the Level.”

Mac Demarco and company playing “No Other Heart”

“On the Level” set the mood perfectly by putting the crowd into a lure with Mac’s alluring vocals mixing with the piano, synthesizer, guitars, and drums to reproduce a sound that is best described as cruising down the Florida coastline late at night in a convertible sports car. This was followed by his more upbeat song “Salad Days,” a popular song that had the entire crowd singing along and moving to the walking bass line played by Jon Lent.

 

Following the throwback nature of “Salad Days,” the group followed up with “No Other Heart” off the 2015 EP Another One, ending with a beautiful transition into the self-titled track “This Old Dog.” In line with the laid-back nature of the song, the crowd (myself included) took a step back from the singing along and bobbed our heads to the acoustic driven sounds of the song.

About halfway through the set, the band ceased all colored lighting and effects on stage, instead opting to use a few spotlights to accompany “Dreams from Yesterday.” In studio, the song is a beautiful arrangement that makes great use of acoustics and soft melodies to captivate the listener into a daze. This live performance, however, took the same song and added a beautiful piano arrangement by Alec Leen to ascend the song onto another level of audio euphoric bliss. Accompanied by the crowd waving lighters and flashlights alike, it was truly one of those moments where you had to process what had happened after the fact.

The crowd waving their phones and lighters to “Dreams from Yesterday”

Mac closed the night with some more songs off his older albums including “Ode to Viceroy,” “Freaking out the Neighborhood,” and the ever popular track “Chamber of Reflection.”  To cap off the set, the group played a rendition of the song “Still Together,” which included a 5 minute segment of Andy soloing on his guitar and each band member screaming into the microphone as if they were acting out some sort of primitive mating call. Following that, Mac and co. bid the crowd farewell and set us up for the remainder of the concert.

Seeing Mac DeMarco live is something that I have always wanted to do since listening to his music back in 2015. Now that I’ve seen him, I can safely say his performances are well worth experiencing. There’s a homely vibe you get when attending his shows and coupled with the atmosphere generated by like-minded fans, creates an experience that leaves you smiling at the end of the night. Mac DeMarco is gradually catching momentum and popularity (as evidenced by him touring the Flaming Lips), so ticket prices and venue sizes are both rapidly increasing. If you have the chance, check him out live at least once, as you’ll experience a culture and sound unique to his shows that you can’t find with any other similarly popular artist.

After Mac left the stage, there was a mass exodus, which is not at all surprising considering the fan-bases for both Demarco and the Lips are quite different, not only in age, but in musical taste. Those that left missed what, in my opinion, was one of the best concert sets I have ever seen. Wayne Coyne, the enigmatic frontman of the Flaming Lips came onto the stage wearing what looked like a pirate costume, complete with an eye-patch.

Opening with a Richard Strauss cover, the band unleashed their spectacular visuals along with what seemed like a million balloons, along with endless streams of confetti, not to mention a giant balloon that spelled out “Fuck Yeah Houston.” It truly felt like I was Alice and I had entered Wonderland. The stage show did not stop there, as the band played one of their more popular songs “Yoshimi Battles the Giant Pink Robots Pt.1” a giant pink robot was inflated behind Coyne who tried to fight back that evil natured robot, just as Yoshimi would have.

Then just as quickly as the robot appeared, Coyne disappeared, while the band played a beautiful instrumental song. However, Coyne’s disappearance was short lived as he appeared out of the back of the crowd on the back of a glowing unicorn, throwing confetti like some sort of MDMA-fueled knight.

After the Lips played a song which featured a psychedelic gong, they went into one of their classics “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” letting the crowd take a little dance-break from the jaw-drop inducing visuals. Then came an unexpected surprise in the form of a cover of David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity.” Coyne was able to channel Ziggy’s cadence perfectly, all while inside of a giant inflatable ball that he used to dash on top of the crowd like some sort of deranged gerbil before reaching a platform in the back of the crowd, where he finished the song.

The band went on to play three more songs, including a personal favorite of mine “Are You a Hypnotist?” before exiting the stage. However, the crowds screams for more brought the band out for two more songs, including the live debut of “Almost Home.” The final song the band was easily their most touching, the goose-bump inducing “Do You Realize??” a song about the futility of existence, and how we should always look on the bright side and put our love out into the world. The song was the perfect way to end the night, as the line “It’s hard to make the good things last,” pretty much encapsulated the crowd’s feeling when Coyne and company finally exited the stage.

Of all the concerts I have ever been to, this has to be the most awe-inspiring. Nothing can top that night in my mind, the energy in the building was amazing. This was more of a spectacle than a concert, and in the era of music festivals being the preeminent spot to catch live music, it was refreshing to see a large scale stage show on a smaller stage. In the past, I had always recommended going to see the Flaming Lips live, but after Friday night, seeing the Lips is absolutely essential for fans of live music, no matter what kind of music you listen to. These guys give a truly once-in-a-lifetime show every time they get up on stage.

 

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