Mac DeMarco

Hackney Empire, London

30th July 2023

Kayla Sandiford

An American in London. Loosely termed journalist. When I’m not attending gigs or writing about sounds that I love, you can find me making art and fawning over nature.

Canadian indie-rock mogul Mac DeMarco brings new album ‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ to the Hackney Empire stage in a three-night run of special performances. 

After four years, Mac DeMarco is back in London. With his unconventional sound and goofy, down-to-earth demeanour, he has amassed a devoted following of millions since his full-length debut ‘2’ in 2012. After making comments about stepping away from touring in 2022, there was widespread social media speculation surrounding the future of DeMarco’s career.

‘Retirement’ became a dirty word that weighed heavily among his fanbase. In June he joined social media star Emma Chamberlain for a conversation on her podcast anything goes with emma chamberlain, in which he clarified that he has not retired in the way that people believed. “Perhaps I’ve retired from the way things used to be,” DeMarco told Chamberlain, easing the woes of his audience. 

In line with this statement, DeMarco appears to be redefining his approach to music with his latest releases. He came out with the fully instrumental ‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ in January, soon followed by 199-song behemoth ‘One Wayne G’ in April.

DeMarco kicked off the first of three sold-out shows on Sunday evening. Hackney Central felt sleepy as grey skies loomed over with occasional drizzles of rain. Yet upon approaching Hackney Empire, I could see that it was abuzz with fans in a queue that wrapped around the music hall. As I took my seat, I was in awe of the grandiosity of the space.

I felt as though I was preparing to see an opera rather than the slacker stylings of the Edmonton native. Anticipation bubbled through the room as performance time approached. From the second DeMarco could be seen stepping out from behind the curtain, the space was filled with thunderous cheers. Followed by his band, DeMarco took his place on stage. Clad in a vintage baseball cap, ‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ tour t-shirt and blue jeans, he settled onto a stool with a no-fuss coolness and his acoustic guitar in hand. 

The audience quietened as DeMarco introduced his band: Daryl Johns (drums), Pedro Martins (bass) and Alec Meen (keys). He announced that the show would be a bit quieter and a bit longer, encouraging attendees to make themselves at home and smile at their neighbours.

DeMarco has stated that ‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ was recorded on a cross-country road trip across the USA and Canada, and he endeavoured to immerse the audience in his journey. The atmosphere was set for a mellow trip beginning off the coast of California with brightly plucked Gualalaand warmly ambient Gualala 2.

DeMarco moved with an easy sway, as if each note was flowing right through him. With the welcoming narration of a seasoned tour guide, he guided the audience to the next destination. “When you get up to the top of California right before Oregon, something beautiful happens.” Although, “there’s a lot more methamphetamine.” The bittersweet beauty in question was Crescent City, a midnight stretch of sonorous bass, long synth notes and slow strums. Up next was an entrancing cruise through Oregon with Portland and Portland 2’, just before crossing into the Canadian wilderness.

An atypical guide, DeMarco brought humour to the set as he often ran away with his words. “If not for all of you, perhaps Canada wouldn’t have been in the first place,” he joked. This was one of several moments throughout the set in which it felt as though the audience became a part of DeMarco’s unrestrained internal monologue.

With hazy keys and soft shakers, ‘Victoria’ was dreamlike, preceding the bustling rhythm of ‘Vancouver’ – a lively ode to the vibrant city. The trio reflected the diversity of the seaport, with ‘Vancouver 2’ being likened to a Beethoven composition while Vancouver 3’ played as a wavy flow of sunny acoustic picking and thrumming bass tones.  

Traversing the Canadian prairies, DeMarco takes the audience through to his hometown with ‘Edmonton’ and ‘Edmonton 2’ with a critical warning about the fatal consequences of fracking. The soundscape expanded subtly, light bongo playing and jam block taps creating a dynamic percussive backdrop. Breezing back into the United States with ‘Chicago’ and ‘Chicago 2, DeMarco reminisced on his time spent in the windy city.

“I remember it like it was yesterday, I was at the Chicago Bulls game,” he mused, seemingly making the most of his visit with deep dish pizza and a photo-op with the Michael Jordan statue. Closing in Queens, New York with ‘Rockaway’, named after the neighbourhood, he lived in for years. Just like that, the dogs were done.

Speaking on the album, DeMarco described it as something that is “finished, but not finished in some ways.” He noted that as he’s gotten older and his needs have changed, ‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ has fulfilled them. He thanked the audience for being a part of the experimental show, expressing that he never thought the album would come out, let alone be played live. 

Listen to ‘Five Easy Hot Dogs’ here: