Review: Declan McKenna at Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

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For such a new artist, Declan McKenna has quickly gained a vast and diverse following. This was exhibited perfectly on a dark and wet Wednesday night in mid-March at Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms.

The opening act of the night was Irish musician Orla Gartland who proved herself to be an accomplished singer and multi-instrumentalsist, looping guitar, synth and drum machine to create textured layers of music. Though the young crowd seemed to respond well, the songs felt exclusively aimed at the teenage girls of the crowd and lyrics about ‘hands meeting in crips packets’ contained nice sentiments but were a little lacking in depth.

After the entertainment of watching a young girl, who had snuck in cans of Strongbow, run around the room evading security in a game of cat and mouse that lasted around half an hour, McKenna and band took to the stage and went straight in to fan-favourite ‘Isombard.’ The song’s opening was barely audible above the screams and cheers of the crowd. With the room jumping along from the get-go, the song set the precedent for the rest of the evening; McKenna was bringing a party to Portsmouth.

The crowd sang back every word as McKenna and band tore through his hits such ‘Paracetamol’ and ‘Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’. There was something heartening about hearing a crowd, made up predominantly of hundreds of young people, singing back his politically-charged lyrics with messages about the problems facing transgender teenagers, or how young people are often left out of political conversation being shouted in unison.

McKenna stage banter was equally as engaging. He started by shouting out his band members between songs, “Shout out to Sofia Heustice on bass!” However by the end of the show he was shouting out whatever came in to his head, “Shout out to HMV for hanging on in there!” Part-musician, part-stand up comedian, he exhibited himself as a new breed of showman.

Though he has already released five singles, probably around half of his upcoming debut album, McKenna and his band played a host of new material throughout the night, most notably the Beatles-esque ‘Humungous’. The song saw the fast pace of the evening slowed down for a few minutes, but it wasn’t long before the it was brought right back up with final song, McKenna’s first single ‘Brazil’.

As McKenna stage-dived in to the audience and the last note of the show-closer rung out, I had to run in order catch the only train home back to Southampton wasn’t cancelled that evening (thanks Southern Rail), but according to Twitter I missed a second and crowd-demanded encore of opener ‘Isombard’. I can’t think of a more fitting way to end such a raucous evening.

Declan McKenna is back on tour in May. McKenna was interviewed by The Edge ahead of his performance and is available to read here.

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