Everyone who was in attendance at the Bowery Ballroom on Monday night is probably going to die of some horrible strain of flu, and Mac DeMarco is Patient Zero. At least, that’s how it looked from the packed floor of his first of four sold-out New York shows in support of his latest EP, Another One. The scabby, gap-toothed troubadour has been known to instigate a little good-natured debauchery, but this time, he wasn’t swallowing NyQuil for fun; DeMarco looked truly and terrifyingly ill, apologizing before the set and swearing that he’d try to rally.
Rally he did, but the show got off to a bit of a rocky start, with guitarist Andy White breaking a string before it even began. Bassist Pierce McGarry did his part to get the crowd amped with an impromptu ditty dedicated to fast-food roast beef retailer Arby’s (the only lyric to the song was the word “Yummy,” melodically repeated over and over). Even with DeMarco under the weather, McGarry and White kept the banter flowing. As longtime bandmates and buddies, they’ve watched DeMarco’s star rise meteorically over the last three years, after Brooklyn-based indie label Captured Tracks began putting out his records based on the quirky strength of the demos with slowed-down vocals that would become his debut, Rock and Roll Nightclub.
With White’s guitar restrung and back in tune, the dudes dived into “The Way You’d Love Her,” an early single from the new EP. They barely came up for air before beginning the first big sing-along of the night, the title track from DeMarco’s 2014 LP Salad Days. The bright and noodly “No Other Heart” followed, making his focus very clear; the set was loaded with songs from Another One, and despite their relative newness, the audience seemed to know every word. Clad in what could only be described as a Mac DeMarco “uniform” of sorts — worn-out ball cap; cuffed jeans; loose-fitting, wrinkled button-up — these fans skewed very young, which isn’t all that surprising considering DeMarco himself is barely 25. For his part, he wore the clothes of a very sick man, sweatpants and a loose-fitting tee that he rapidly sweat through as his over-the-counter medicine took hold and his fever broke.
Speaking of things breaking, it was DeMarco’s turn to break a string, midway through “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name,” from 2, his second record. While DeMarco knelt onstage, repairing the damage, McGarry introduced a song the band had been “working on for seven years” — a cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” These antics seemed off-the-cuff, but in reality are nothing new for DeMarco’s touring band, who often pepper their sets with the same tongue-in-cheek renditions night after night. They repeated the prank when White broke another string after ripping through “Another One,” “Cooking Up Something Good,” and “Ode to Viceroy” (during which fans threw actual packs of the singer’s favorite smokes onstage), this time with a metal-esque tribute to the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” Later in the set, they’d also perform Steely Dan classic “Reelin’ in the Years.”
But sunny little lovesongs remain DeMarco’s personal specialty, and he’s very good at playing them sincerely, even if they start to sound a little similar. He wears his heart on his crusty sleeve, and this, perhaps, is the easiest explanation for the rabid fandom that follows him. This is a crowd that eagerly scooped up DeMarco’s sweat-soaked bandages — slipped from his “bunged-up knee” and out the leg of his sweatpants during “Cooking” — and this is the crowd that threw a black lace thong onstage during “Without Me,” which McGarry promptly donned as a hat. This is a crowd in which someone held aloft a banner with the words “Can I have your guitar pick?” as though this were a stadium instead of the Bowery Ballroom — but that was likely Jerry Paper, DeMarco’s bizarro opening act, who basically vibed to a prerecorded Casio beat whilst wearing a kimono.
DeMarco may not take himself seriously, but he’s seriously got it bad for someone, and “it” here doesn’t even refer to whatever virus he was spreading around the venue. During “A Heart Like Hers,” a valentine-red, heart-shaped spotlight shone on the backdrop behind the band, but that was hardly the set’s most romantic display. Crooning his best falsetto (with a little help from a spray or two of Chloraseptic and some encouragement from Julian Casablancas, who made an exceptionally brief cameo), DeMarco hit all the high notes of surfy, lilting, reverb-soaked “Still Together” before diving into the crowd, then climbed up the Ballroom’s balcony to the spot where his girlfriend, Kiera McNally, sat laughing. The pair kissed before DeMarco fell backward into the crowd as if struck by Cupid’s bow, a modern-day, indie-rock Romeo.
Returning shirtless for an Adderall-fueled encore of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” DeMarco remained nonchalant while harried Bowery stagehands tried desperately to keep a tidal wave of stage divers from injuring themselves. Though most of the world prefers to crawl in bed and watch Netflix at the slightest sniffle, DeMarco’s got three more shows in NYC alone (at Webster Hall, the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and Warsaw, with tickets on the secondary market fetching hundreds), not to mention another three months in Europe and along the West Coast with barely a week’s break. But as the unlikely, wisecracking hero to a slew of obsessed devotees, he’s taking that old adage — “the show must go on” — straight to his lovesick heart.