“They say you play this venue twice in your life: once on the way up and once on the way down. Well, it’s good to be back,” Declan McKenna quipped at the start of his Oct. 11 performance at The Sinclair. The joke was clear to audiences as McKenna’s career was only on the rise, and this show made it clear why.
Annie DiRusso opened for McKenna, and while most viewers seemed unfamiliar with her songs, her members matched her vibrant energy. DiRusso’s lyrics were relatable and her guitar lines were headbanging, both of which she passionately performed. Her set would inspire any first-time listener to add her music to their playlists. Several quirky elements made the performance even funnier: the matching outfits she and her band wore, the trampoline on stage that her guitarist occasionally jumped on, and the synchronized choreography all the musicians performed during their final song.
McKenna’s set began with a recorded cover of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” (1967), played before McKenna even took the stage, a bit of a surprise to fans who had already followed the setlist online. However, that choice was certainly in line with the inspiration McKenna openly takes from pop-rock icons, particularly those of the ’70s. That influence is evident in Zeros (2020), the album he is touring on, as well as his fashion choices, which for this show included glittery eyeshadow and a Bowie-esque outfit.
McKenna’s first song was “Beautiful Faces,” which immediately captivated audiences as the lyrics encouraged them to say, “Put your hands up!” He played the entire tracklist of “Zeros,” which shares most of the songs from his debut album, What Do You Think About the Car?” (2017) as well as his latest single “My House”. Standouts were “Make Me Your Queen,” a stripped-down version that makes the song’s emotions more tangible, and the opening track of “Zeros,” “You Better Believe!!!” demonstrated McKenna’s skill at alternating between catchy, energetic riffs and esoteric lyrics perfectly reflected.
The small and intimate size of The Sinclair was the perfect setting for McKenna. He consistently interacted with fans throughout the show, humorously recounting his past experiences at the venue years ago when he climbed onto the balcony and was verbally abused by a security guard. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that on this show. He also responded to fans who showed him pictures on their phones and accepted a bouquet of flowers from an attendee in the front row. He didn’t hesitate to let his personality shine through between and during songs.
The most notable aspect of McKenna’s performance was the emotion he poured into each song, which could be heard in his voice, and seen in his facial expressions and passionate body language. Whether it was a vulnerable expression of insecurity like “Humongous” or an apocalyptic banger like “Rapture,” audiences responded directly to its energy. McKenna hopped onto the piano for “Be an Astronaut,” which his guitarist Isabel Torres played a beautiful solo mid-song. Throughout the set, McKenna displayed his prowess in all aspects of musical performance, from vocals to guitar to piano and even the tambourine.
He left the stage briefly and returned for an encore consisting of “Daniel, You’re Still a Child”, “Why Do You Feel So Down”, “Eventually, Darling”, his viral hit “Brazil” and the highlight of passed the set protest rock anthem “British Bombs”. For this final number, McKenna grabbed a guitar with the British flag decaled, which he then seemingly symbolically tossed to the ground before beginning the epic build-up to the song’s bridge and closing chorus.
What is striking in McKenna’s music is its extensive reference to social, political and often existential issues. This final performance, as well as many of his other songs, clearly channeled his political frustrations. Undoubtedly, his predominantly young audience not only identifies with this feeling, but also appreciates the highly danceable melodies and guitar lines in which McKenna so adeptly wraps his scathing political commentary. A Declan McKenna concert is a place where you can sing and shout with him about issues from climate change to corruption and have a great time. It’s a truly unique and cathartic experience.