Ben McCall-Myers explores the personas of 'two of the most influential young alt-rock stars on the current music scene', King Krule and Mac Demarco.
‘Week 9’, as dated by the MyBristol timetable, was far from an ordinary University week.
It commenced on the Monday (20/11/17), which saw the slight frame and frizzy ginger hair of Archy Marshall deliver the deep and disturbed voice of King Krule from the Motion main stage.
Looking to promote The OOZ, his long-awaited follow-up to 6 Feet Beneath the Moon(2013), a typically withdrawn Archy had little to say between tracks, nervously repeating that his ‘nan used to live near Bristol’ and clearly awe-struck by the rabid mass of people that had turned out to see him. This didn’t detract from the hush that ensued whenever his musical persona, King Krule, took to the mic, exercising a fearsome authority over the sold-out crowd.
The gig was made up of a blend old and new, familiar and unfamiliar. Live performances of tracks from his first LP, notably ‘A Lizard State’ and ‘Has this Hit’, injected them with a punk rock adrenaline that differed from the disconcerting, original recordings. This gave the old tracks a faster, more intense dimension which was balanced out by some of the slower tracks from The OOZ: ‘A Slide In (New Drugs)’ and ‘The Locomotive’ both reverberated with Archy’s haunting vulnerability and gave the crowd an opportunity for a breather.
Following a gripping opening hour, the King brought out the classics in his last twenty minutes on stage. His audience went into rapture at the chorus of ‘Dum Surfer’, the most widely listened to track on his new album, barking at one another ‘I’m mashed! You’re mashed! He’s mashed!’ in a typically King Kruleian acknowledgement of a total lack of control. This preceded classics such as ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Easy Easy’ and at the tail end of the latter, Archy launched his guitar into the air and strutted off the stage as it crashed into the ground behind him.
A panting crowd, drenched in each other’s sweat, mustered up the energy for a curtain call and Archy duly obliged. He returned wielding a new guitar, before barking ‘And hate, runs through my blood’, the iconic opening line to ‘Out Getting Ribs’ – the track that perhaps made the biggest splash when he burst onto the music scene back in 2013. This was roared in unison by his cult followers to round off a phenomenal show that encapsulated Marshall’s eerie, bleak sound without losing the energy and excitement of a live rock performance.
To finish the week, sandwiching a hard slog of lectures and seminars, Mac DeMarco performed at the O2 Academy (26/11/17). He offered an alternative portrait of the young, male, anti-establishment artist, as a much more cheerful, blasé and extroverted character on stage.
Swigging cans of Stella Artois, DeMarco seemed to have a permanent cheeky grin on his face, only made wider by the bizarrely contrasting items thrown at him by his star struck fans: a tin of Heinz beans, which he actually signed, and a singular red rose, which he delicately placed in one of the empty Stella cans.
Also looking to promote his most recent album, This Old Dog (which you can read my review of here), the now quite well-respected Canadian star opened with ‘On the Level’ which immediately imposed upon his spectators his mellow state of mind. From the outset, the most important thing for everyone, including DeMarco and his band, was to relax and have fun.
That isn’t to say that the heartfelt sincerity of tracks such as ‘Moonlight On The River’ and ‘My Kind Of Woman’ was lost, but rather that their earnestness was blended with a susceptibility to joking around between (and sometimes even during) performances. DeMarco encouraged fans’ to ‘come and find me in a pub afterwards’ and seemed extremely personable and friendly, if a little drunk.
However, after belting out some of his most famous tracks such as ‘Ode to Viceroy’ and ‘Still Together’ about two thirds of the way through the set, the silliness reached a whole new level. Mac handed the microphone to his drummer, as the two swapped rolls for the remainder of the gig.
Utter absurdity followed with covers all the way from The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Under the Bridge’, to Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, to Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’. A sing-a-long revelry was led not by Mac, but by his drummer, who even ended up crowd surfing at one point. After finally returning to as the frontman, Mac stood on the O2’s rather expensive speakers and in the most Alex Turner fashion, dropped the microphone.
His gig certainly lived up to expectations of an unpredictable and bizarre musical experience, although not quite as mental as the rumours of nudity, espoused by that performance of U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’, elsewhere. The lazy boy come rock star nailed a diverse concoction of his own music, whilst his drummer had a whale of a time bellowing some of his all-time favourite tracks at another sold out show. It’s clear that Mac and his crew don’t play by the rules; like their audience, they’re just out to have a good time.
Having attended both gigs, I am inclined to speculate at which I preferred. Of course, both were fantastic but in very different ways. One thing the artists do have in common is a great disillusionment with the modern world. This is more obvious with King Krule, whose voice, lyrics and genuinely sombre approach clearly demonstrate an ostracised perspective on the millennial lifestyle. It is perhaps harder to see with Mac, whose overtly stupid public persona and inclination to get wasted to me seems symptomatic of a similar, but more disguised, discontent.
At the beginning of the month, I lost a close family member. 'Woah', you're thinking, 'this isn't your bog-standard conclusion to a gig review'. Well, for me, these weren't your bog-standard gigs. These were two of the most influential young alt-rock stars on the current music scene, equally as dissatisfied with life’s chaos as me, coincidentally playing in Bristol either side of my father’s funeral. This offered me an opportunity to temporarily forget about all the morbid admin, escape from the unpredictable waves of grief and lose myself in one of mine and my old man’s mutual passions: music.
‘My Old Man’, poignantly the opening track of Mac’s latest album was perhaps the most therapeutic three minutes of the latter gig, as I swayed to the chorus in unison with hundreds of people completely oblivious to what the song meant to me. However, hearing the uniquely raucous, macabre and troubled voice of Archy Marshall in the flesh somehow consoled me more. It encouraged me to lament on the darkness and injustice that, at times, can engulf everyone’s lives.
For me, in this battle between two of music’s biggest rebels, King Krule’s serious, enigmatic approach was more powerful than Mac’s blend of laid back tunes and lunatic antics.
Regardless of a value judgement, it’s fair to say I won’t be forgetting ‘Week 9’ in a hurry.
Featured Image: Twitter / @msldemarco
'This Old Dog' and 'The OOZ', the latest albums from Mac Demarco and King Krule, are out now via Captured Tracks and XL Recordings.