Review: Declan McKenna Live at Lafayette, London

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McKenna and band’s livestreamed concert made for a breakneck retro-future gauntlet of gigantic pop-rock, with the entirety of Zeros played as well as a couple of older hits.

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Declan McKenna’s virtual concert at Lafayette began with wandering synths over a sparsely lit stage. It’s ominous until the lightning snare singles of ‘You Better Believe!!!’ bust in and the band are launched into a head-bobbing rock tune with an undulating lead guitar tone from McKenna, as well as more intimate piano chords which take prominence in the second verse. Its chorus sounds massive and frantic, and the song is laced with one-liners: “Fastest gun in the solar system”, “God’s creation / with a half-off summer deal”. It makes for a great tone-setter — both on McKenna’s new record Zeros and in a live context. The concert follows suit, with the rest of the album played in order with a faithfully roaring mix and solid performances from the band; Isabel Torres on guitar, Gabi King on drums, Will Bishop on bass and Nathan Cox on keyboards.

The set for the show was kept relatively uncrowded, revolving around a central tree prop with rings hanging from its branches (Zeros; get it?). Apart from this, the back of the stage was lit by a rounded screen, from which graphics and bold colours were projected. This video backdrop worked wonders — whether it was the searing red to complement the bustling intro of ‘British Bombs’, or towered, flickering screens to go alongside a spotlit McKenna during ‘Eventually Darling’, the visual aspects of the show added to the drama of Declan’s songs. Likewise, the retro-futurist aesthetic of the material really brought it alive (though I think this could have been expanded upon during some songs with graphics that more clearly represent the album or hint at broader concept; the ‘Eventually, Darling’ screens are a good benchmark for this). The lightshow given during more overtly hectic moments of the concert — rapidly changing colours, strobe, et cetera, also worked a treat and tended to strengthen the concert’s already strong sense of energy. McKenna stomping about during his guitar solo in ‘Beautiful Faces’ while white lighting flickers incessantly was a particular highlight.

Some tracks from the first record What Do You Think About the Car? (as well as aforementioned one-off single ‘British Bombs’) were also played alongside the new material. His most known track, ‘Brazil’ has never sounded so full, and the bridge/climax of ‘Bombs’ was as gratifying as you’d hope. The occasional spoken-word interlude between songs from McKenna – “if we’re talking best bands and we’re not talking Oasis, I don’t wanna hear it” – and the “wash your hands” line that Declan added to the end of ‘Listen To Your Friends’, added some humour and topicality to the show; with the former of the two perhaps embodying one of the characters within Zeros. It poked at some depth and further concept; perfect for the new record.

The show ended on a nice note, with a “that’s all from us, folks” and a quick thanking of the band. While, as Declan said, this is not how many of us would have envisaged release night for his new record, McKenna & his band navigated an unfavourable situation well, with a great live mix, compulsive song-to-song energy and likeable visual elements. While perhaps more could have been done to expand upon the typically woozy accompanying visuals for Zeros (think those green screen music videos or ‘Beautiful Faces’) with the screen onstage, the show made for a great evening watch and was well worth the modest price of admission. Post-pandemic, Declan McKenna will be one to see.

Zeros is out now on Columbia Records. You can listen to the opening track below.

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Digital Culture Editor 2020/21, Film and History student.

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