Marlborough Town Hall
So don’t lie to me, I know I’m not as cool as I try to be…but I’ve been to see Declan McKenna twice in the space of a few weeks, in two different live settings, and my superiority complex is coming through to let you know that maybe I am cooler than you, and maybe you need to do the same. Trust me, Declan McKenna is worth your time and your money!
Usually, I’d go to a small and intimate gig of an artist in order to take in how close I am to the front with my view perfectly unobstructed, whilst fantasising about seeing the same artist in a year or so at a much bigger venue. However, thanks to our lovely acquaintance, Covid, I did this in completely the wrong order, attending Declan McKenna’s headline slot at the o2 Academy Bristol a couple of weeks ago, before showing up to Dec’s little acoustic set at Marlborough’s Town Hall, courtesy of Sound Knowledge, for a much more cosy and intimate evening out, due to rescheduling of dates. I say that it was in the wrong order, however, in hindsight, it made me realise that Dec really can do it all – I’ve seen him do the beep test during a track in front of thousands, but I’ve also seen him repeatedly spill his beer on stage, and complain that there’s too much pressure for him to be an expert on the pubs of Marlborough.
From these stripped back, semi-acoustic gigs, the uniqueness of McKenna’s musicality really shines through, allowing for a real emphasis to be put on his evident passion, and genuine love for what he does. His vocals aren’t perfect, but this really adds to the general vibe of his music, making it distinctively Dec, with his eccentric voice, that arguably isn’t the strongest, cracking when he belts the notes a little too harshly, but it’s all part of McKenna’s sound, and really proves him to be an authentic singer-songwriter.
As for his branding of a “voice of a generation” from the media, it is extremely evident that McKenna’s music resonates with those coming of age in these strange times, as the audience tonight is largely made up of the younger generation, whom all sing along to every single word, and even join Dec in singing the psychedelic rock inspired riff of The Key To Life On Earth, showing just how hardcore they are when it comes to the indie rock artist’s discography.
The show is obviously semi-acoustic, meaning that there are some hurdles to overcome, in order to make the show feel as close to a full band gig. Some of these hurdles also present themselves to be harder to overcome than others – Declan’s loop pedal, we’re all looking at you (Brazil is where it really decides it’s going to play up, with Dec stopping to address the audience that “there is a reason [he] stopped doing gigs with a loop pedal”, before persevering on into the well-known and equally as well-loved opening riff…only for the pedal to continue to drop out at random times). Although, McKenna is not completely alone on the stage: joining him tonight are two members of his usual touring band, his drummer, Gabrielle King, and bassist, Nathan Cox, both of whom provide backing instrumentals to accompany the loop pedal and Dec’s acquired keyboard skills and glittery gold telecaster, really elevating the overall sound of the set.
The two band members exit the stage, as McKenna moves across to the keyboard on stage left, ready for Be An Astronaut, a song so stunning live that it silences the euphoric audience for moments of its running time, and really provides a moment of hype for McKenna’s improved vocals.
Overall, the setlist offers a really good overview of McKenna’s full discography, allowing for a celebration of tunes old and new; the set opens with Why Do You Feel So Down, a catchy, upbeat number residing on 2017 debut, What Do You Think About The Car?, an album that brought Dec to Marlborough for the first time through its promotional period, and Make Me Your Queen, a tune that just had to be included tonight, considering it’s a soothing, primarily acoustically driven track, and accustomed fan-favourite. Newer songs, such as current single, My House, a tune depicting lockdown life and exploring blossoming relationships within this period of history, are welcomed with the same reception as those playing in earphones and spinning on record decks over the course of the past few years. However, it’s ultimately the tracks from 2020 sophomore album, Zeros, that have brought us all together (we all bought the record - a year and a month ago – in order to gain entry to this gig) in this town hall that is essentially a glammed up, much more prestigious looking version of my secondary school assembly hall. If you really picture it when in the room, it’s pretty easy to imagine Dec providing a special assembly show, especially as a result of the immense level of intimacy that we find ourselves in on this rainy Tuesday night. After all, it’s not every day that you find yourself in such close proximity with one of the most exciting acts in the music business, something that Sound Knowledge can really pride themselves on.
However, probably one of the most unexpected, yet equally as awesome moments of this entire set, clocking in around the forty-minute mark, is the fact that the crowd are so up for anything, and completely and utterly loving every single second, that they open up a mosh pit during the middle eight of closing song, British Bombs. The freedom and utter joy on the faces of the crowd, which adds up to no more than a couple hundred people, is really warming, and really makes me take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to have live music back again. It felt really quite special as I felt the floorboards beneath me shake almost in rhythm with the tune, and was surrounded by groups of friends, arms in the air and belting every word. It’s not something I ever imagined I’d experience at this show, but that made it feel even more euphoric than I could have otherwise conceptualised.
Declan McKenna has departed the stage by 8pm, announcing his plans to make a pit-stop at the pub later on. Eager fans hang around for a little bit by the stage, wondering whether they’ll be lucky enough to meet Dec afterwards for a conversation and a photo for the gram, whilst others head towards the doors, pulling on coats and huddling with their friends, attempting to brave the downpour. That could be one of the best features of Sound Knowledge hosted events: the shows don’t drag, but instead leave you with the perfect amount of live music that you feel content, and are then able to get home and have an early night with a cuppa, in tonight’s instance specifically, with the evening’s instalment of The Great British Bake Off on for record. If you’re in the local area (or even if you’re not, and you like what you’ve heard so much that you want to come and see what it’s all about for yourself, no matter the journey length) and haven’t already, make sure that you get yourself down to Sound Knowledge, and also familiarise yourself with some of the other upcoming events that they have to offer on the high street in the coming months.