This article discusses sexual violence that may be troubling to some readers.
This weekend, the Bay Area was caught in the thrall of its strongest storm of the last 26 years. The rain and wind led to road closures, flooding and power outages for residents throughout the region. The adverse weather conditions, however, weren’t enough to stop devout Mac DeMarco fans from showing their support at Frost Amphitheater for the Stanford Live event.
Stanford students certainly had the easiest journey to the concert, but they were heavily outnumbered by residents from across the Bay Area, some of which drove hours in hazardous conditions to make it to the venue. One of the many people caught in the unending downpour flew out from Washington, D.C., solely for the show; another attendee traveled all the way from Colombia to see DeMarco.
With his commanding stage presence and choice of openers, it’s no surprise that DeMarco’s cult following would travel across the country to see him despite the bad weather. The audience was not afraid to show their excitement: a cheer of “We want Mac!” briefly roared through Frost as the crowd waited for DeMarco.
Mac DeMarco has played at a few festivals around the country as COVID-19 regulations have eased, but his first return to a solo stage was at Stanford. Being stuck in the house for the last year and a half took a toll on the indie powerhouse just as it did on the rest of us, according to the artist. He explained during the concert that quarantine made him question whether he wanted to continue a career in music. Luckily for his fans, DeMarco also said that being able to play shows again reminded him why he began his musical journey in the first place.
He casually strolled onto the stage, cracking jokes with the audience and vocalizing his unending gratitude. He was just as excited to see the fans as they were to see him, adding that his girlfriend said he seemed to be “half a man” without the shows. A piece of him was missing without being able to interact with his audience.
And interact with the audience he did. He paused between songs to tell the crowd about the photograph on the shirt he was wearing (a photo of his one-armed saxophonist grandfather Henry DeMarco), did a walking hand-stand across the stage to compete with his openers’ onstage stunts and thanked the audience over and over for showing up and sticking around despite the poor weather.
DeMarco’s vocal delivery was excellent, and his band played wonderfully. He traded out smoothly sung lines with powerful notes that bounced through the audience. The energy in the venue was palpable as the crowd sang along to the addictive lyrics of “My Kind of Woman,” although I don’t consider myself to be a big DeMarco fan.
Hearing a popular indie singer perform in the softly colored rain should have been an idyllic experience — but criticisms of DeMarco’s insensitivities bounced around my head throughout his set. In the past, his stage presence has been anything but benign, and in a previous performance he joked about sexual violence. While this occurred years ago, and he claims to have learned from his actions, the same can’t be said about some of his fans. DeMarco’s past behavior was brought to the front of my mind as I overheard an audience member in the crowd casually joke about raping JD Beck, the 18-year-old drummer accompanying the band for the night. Witnessing how this dangerous thinking still remains among some of his followers left a sinking feeling in my stomach throughout DeMarco’s set.
Thankfully, most fans at the show were warm and welcoming, allowing me to join the crowd’s celebration of the opening acts’ energy. Producer John Carroll Kirby was the first to take the stage. He laid down lush elements on his keyboards that effortlessly floated up along Frost’s soaked steps. His mellow piano melodies and gritty synths bled through the amphitheater air, with the pulsing kick drum serving as the heartbeat of the venue. The tranced audience swayed in their ponchos and soaked jackets until pauses left the rainfall as the only noise breaking the venue’s silence.
The other opener, an experimental rock duo called The Garden, also brought the audience to life, but in an entirely different manner. Made up of twin brothers Wyatt and Fletcher Shears, the performing group turned the slowly swaying front rows into a series of competing mosh pits with their punchy drums and screaming vocals. Drumsticks and mic stands went into the air. One brother did acrobatics while the other launched himself into the audience. The duo’s presence was electric, jolting the crowd into sporadic frenzies that moved me from the back to the front rows — and another attendee out of the crowd altogether with a bloody (albeit smiling) mouth.
I fed off the energy around me, and for the majority of my night I was able to enjoy seeing a host of talented artists. Even so, it was the first time I experienced genuine discomfort by being in the presence of a performer. It left me asking myself, “Am I really capable of separating art from the artist?” As DeMarco’s mic cut while he let his final notes ring out into the rain, I came to the understanding that I could not.