Declan McKenna began his first major headline tour at Norwich’s Waterfront Studio on Monday 23rd January in superb fashion, delivering a punchy hour-long, twelve song set.
Support came from Leeds four-piece Clay who got the sold-out crowd moving for half an hour with a set including recent single ‘6AM’, interspersed with patter from likable frontman Joe Harvey.
Having gained much attention for his stage outfits in the past, tonight McKenna opted for a pair of brown dungarees over a baggy tee, which looked far better than this description sounds!
Stretching his raw, tender vocal range almost to its limit without ever straining his vocal chords, McKenna played all of his five singles to date alongside new album tracks from his as-yet-unreleased debut LP, due this year.
The maturity of McKenna’s lyrics is something that characterises his songwriting above that of his peers, and luckily the nuances of songs like ‘Paracetamol’ translated well to the live stage where they were more energetic and up-tempo.
His young band of Isabel Torres (guitar), Sofia Heustice (bass), Gabi King (drums) and Nathan Cox (keys) were excellent, providing the perfect foils for McKenna’s lively stage presence which included a couple of pretty boisterous crowd surfs. The crowd were witness to another rising star in the form of Torres whose lead guitar was excellent as she complimented McKenna’s improving axe work, now a confident part of his stage persona where once it left something to be desired.
McKenna started big, with one of his most recognisable singles ‘Isombard’, leading into ‘Bethlehem’. Next, we saw his first unreleased offering ‘Why Do You Feel So Down?’ from his forthcoming album, a song which has been played at other recent live dates.
His most recent single ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’ was performed with tangible passion, before slower new offering ‘Mind’.
The moody ‘Basic’, B-side to his self-released first single ‘Brazil’ which catapulted McKenna into the public’s consciousness, gained a warm reaction from fans.
‘Listen To Your Friends’ was the undoubted highlight of the set. Acoustic guitar in hand, after a vocal intro this song starts off the funkiest and most soulful we’ve ever heard McKenna. However, after a spoken interjection, McKenna turns polemicist, yelling out the next verse at his absolute most animated before finishing in more typical McKenna fashion. This, he revealed, was the song he had been working on in LA with a well-known friend, but he again decided to keep us waiting to find out exactly who, with little obvious clue in his performance.
McKenna actually apologised for playing two new songs in a row before the Britpoppy, lo-fi ‘Make Me Your Queen’ was then given a run out. The psychedelia of ‘Brew’, the flip of ‘Paracetamol’, was infinitely better live than on record.
New tune ‘Humongous’ saw McKenna reward those who had heard it on his recent Radio 1 Future Festival appearance. This was followed by a hilariously bad joke and storming version of ‘Paracetamol’, where despite the lyric’s melancholic themes, McKenna threw himself well and truly into the song, and into the crowd, needing to be extricated from the ensuing chaos.
After finishing with a rousing extended rendition of ‘Brazil’ featuring an enthusiastic singalong which visibly took McKenna aback, there was no way, and no need, for him to return, aside from signing autographs and posing for photos by the merchandise stall.
In Declan McKenna our generation has got someone we can really get behind. Someone our age who can articulate the fears, anger and demands of a disenfranchised, ignored youth in tough times in the same way as The Who and The Jam have done in the past.
That’s a whole heap of responsibility to put on young shoulders, but I’m confident that, like Paul Weller’s, McKenna’s are more than broad enough to bear the load and lead his ever-expanding fanbase. At no point tonight was there any hint of detachment between McKenna and his audience.
After his current tour around the UK and Europe, McKenna and band head to California to play Coachella. I for one am glad to have seen McKenna when he was still playing small sweatboxes like the Waterfront Studio, because he won’t be for much longer. Catch him while you can, kids.