Mac Demarco, Here Comes the Cowboy review + live at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

The pepperoni playboy is back after a 2 year hiatus since his last release, This Old Dog. In those intervening years Mac has relocated to the west coast, trading in the hustle and bustle of New York for the warmth and sunshine of LA, split from his old record label Captured Tracks in favor of going independent under his own Mac’s Record Label and toured the globe incessantly. When Here Come the Cowboy’s first single and its accompanying music video was released back in March my fellow Snobs and I were very excited for some new Mac. After listening to Nobody I had high hopes for the album as it is truly a lovely and subtle song done in a similar vein to 2017’s This Old Dog, if not even further pared down.

A month later my hopes would not be as high as I listened to the album’s opener Here Comes the Cowboy, a song where Mac literally just repeats this same phrase over and over for some 3 minutes over a somber country style guitar. I don’t know if it was just me, but this song set the pace and enthusiasm for the rest of the album for me. I really wanted to like this album as Cuzomano and I have been longtime fans since back in the Safe for Work days (I will be diving further into Mac post the Snob’s upcoming outing to Primavera Sound). Compared to his older work, Mac has really stripped down most of the songs on the album, even when compared to This Old Dog. The crustiness and unpolished nature of those older songs now seems to have been polished away, but it seems that a lot of the quirkiness seems to have been removed along with it. That being said, in addition to Nobody, the standout tracks for me are Preoccupied and Finally Alone, the most Mac Demarco-esque of the bunch. While that last song may be on the slower side, we still get small bursts of energy creeping out from time-to-time.

In diving through the lyrics of the album it is evidently clear that Mac has taken the last 2 years to do quite a bit of self-reflection, escaping the busy world and exploring the idea of what it means to “grow up”. In a recent interview with Billboard he stated that at the ripe of 29 “I’m older, and I’m not old, but I’m not as interested in just getting blackout drunk onstage. I want things to sound nice”. While these themes and Mac’s exploration of them could have been really interesting, I just think something was lost in translation during the process of putting pen to paper on this album. On Little Dogs March Mac articulates that “[I] hope you had your fun / All those days are over now”, but my only hope is that in growing up we haven’t lost a part of Mac that made him so great and likable from the start.

The album ends with Baby Bye Bye, another song where we hear Mac, you guessed it, repeating the same phrase, this time “Baby Bye Bye”, over and over for some 3 minutes. On a side note, I found the interlude that begins around the 4 minute mark a nice touch as it is a recording of the train announcement from my local train line back in Tokyo, likely recorded while Mac was in town for last summer’s Fuji Rock Festival. While far from bad, Here Comes the Cowboy is just average album for me and by far my least favorite entry to Mac’s ever growing discography. The album came across a bit stiff and just left me wishing for something a bit more fun…

In addition reviewing Mac Demarco’s new album, Here Comes the Cowboy, it just so happened that he was in town touring for said album. Coming from someone who has now seem him several times now, you really can’t say no to the chance of seeing Mac live.

By now you should all know that I tend to never be a fan the opening acts here in San Francisco and tonight would be no different. The opening act was Australian indie pop singer / songwriter Holiday Sidewinder who came out on stage in a reflective metallic high-waist bathing suit, neon pink evening gloves and a white boa combo and was joined by a guitarist who looked like they came straight from a Grateful Dead or Phish set. To be honest the only thing I can remember from her set was that she had spent some time living in London and that in her own words, “It was a horrible place”…my fellow Snobs would not have been pleased.

The next act up was Orange County’s own rock duo The Garden, who have been touring with Mac Demarco since 2017. I would be hard pressed to describe the group in a few mere sentences. Hell, the band themselves created a term of their own term (“vada vada”) to describe their creative expression. That being said, you could loosely classify them under some sort of subgenre of punk, especially given that they are signed to LA’s historic Epitaph Records. Twin brothers Wyatt and Fletcher Shears took to the stage with an infectious raw energy that had the crowd going wild from the get go. Their brief 30 minute set was a rough a wild ride that I thoroughly enjoyed, reminiscent of my time moshing around to The Coathangers, but I don’t think the crowd there to see Mac Demarco was expecting as much. Throughout the set there was a stream of young chilled out twenty-somethings running for dear life out of the pit.

90 minutes into the show and it was finally time for the main act to take the stage, complete with an oversized cowboy hat, a pickle in a stroller and two happy faces straight from the cover of Here Comes Cowboy. Now dear readers, I know what I just said about the album just a few paragraphs above, but I want you forget about that because Mac was able to breathe a whole new breath of energy into these songs. Rather than just only playing songs off the new album, the night’s setlist would include songs that would span 5 albums and date back to 2012.

The band started the set with 2014’s Salad Days before starting to sprinkle in songs off of the new album that included Nobody, Little Dogs March, K and All of Your Yesterdays. While not vastly different from their album versions, the band was able to add back much of the quirkiness and carefree attitude that they are known for. When Mac goes super minimal and pares everything down I think he needs to be careful not to lose what makes him so fun and likable as an act.

One of the highlights of the evening was about midway through the set Mac announced that the band would be trying to sexy version of the next song which happened to be Another One. He then demanding that the venue’s lighting crew turn off all of the lights in the venue and that the crowd hold up their phones and turn on their flash lights. Mac, now fully illuminated in white light, slowly eased his way into a smooth and soulful rendition of song.

Out of their roughly 90 minute set the band would end up playing 6 songs off of 2012’s 2, which is personally my favorite album, including The Stars Keep on Calling My Name, Freaking Out the Neighborhood and My Kind of Woman. Most importantly though the crowd had the pleasure of getting to hear Cooking Up Something Good, one of the most happy-go-lucky songs I can think. Do yourselves all a favor and the next chance you have for a sunny weekend, brew a pot of coffee, put on this song and just let the smile overcome your face. Mac must have been having a good time at this point because he referred to both of the last two songs leading up to the finale as Salad Days. The first of which was actually My Kind of Woman, followed by Chamber of Reflection.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing Mac Demarco live you’ll know that the band ends almost every show with Still Together, which he always dedicates to his long term girlfriend who he affectionately refers to as Kiki. Rather than play the standard album version of the song, after the first verse and chorus the song went to interlude while the band split to refresh, leaving drummer Joe McMurray and guitarist Andy White to hold an impromptu jam session. Eventually Mac, not before taking off his shirt and revealing one hell of a belly, and the rest of the band would regroup on stage, and started playing some sort of R&B song. Before launching into two covers, Andy thanked the crowd for coming and told that crowd that “if you’re here with someone special or you’re just a friend or family member or a homie or a stranger you just met…maybe you think about looking at them right now and just…maybe just realizing the energy between you two however that manifests and realize that it is something we all share with each other whether we’re strangers or homies. This is a song about socialism.” The covers would turn out to be the Isley BrothersBetween the Sheets and the version of Just the Two of Us performed by Dr. Evil and Mini Me in Austin Powers. Eventually the band decided that they actually needed to finish the second verse and final chorus of Still Together and bid the crowd adieu.