Image credit: @thedeclanmckenna
It’s a breath of fresh air to experience a high-definition, multi-camera setup, professionally put together performance streamed live into your home. McKenna did not disappoint when it came to recreating the front row gig experience we’ve all been craving for months. In the first ever performance of his highly-praised sophomore album Zeros, which saw comparisons between the 21-year-old and musical legends Bowie, T-Rex, and The Beatles, McKenna delivers a high-energy hour-long show filmed live from London’s Lafayette.
Incidentally, the last non-virtual gig I attended was McKenna’s Brit Week performance at the Islington Assembly Hall, back in February before the pandemic had fully taken hold in the UK. Fortunately, his usually flamboyant stage presence translates to the screen with all of its vibrancy intact, as he jumps around the stage in a metallic, aptly space-age jacket and trademark glitter-laden cheekbones. There’s nothing more contagious than a musician and his band genuinely enjoying what they’re playing.
Zeros is a concept album that’s produced to teeming, multitudinous perfection, a huge leap in maturity from the more classic indie rock sound which permeated his debut LP What Do You Think About The Car? Airtight production can often be a concern when an album is translated to the stage, with the potential to reveal a sound that can’t support itself outside the four walls of a studio. This doesn’t seem to be a problem when it comes to Zeros. Of course, the same level of polish isn’t present, but McKenna and his band imbue the album with a faintly rough-around-the-edges, emotionally-charged kind of magic that won’t leave you feeling disappointed. The vocals falter at times, but somehow that’s a part of the playful charm of his performance – like how Declan wrangles a rhyme out of “laws of nature” and “Mrs Thatcher” in his self-defined “disco-dystopian” track Rapture.
Image credit: Chuff Media
The album-closer Eventually, Darling is the emotional crux of the show; a haunting, end-of-days-sounding track induced by minor chords, piles of reverb, and an eerie pitched vocal refrain. “Everyone leaves eventually, darling, don’t be afraid,” McKenna croons into the mic, singing of the harshness but inevitability of change and loss in life, from the perspective of the person leaving. And he’s right – the reverb at the track’s end barely has time to fade out before he launches into the 2019 political anthem British Bombs, followed by a string of his debut album’s hits, including – of course – Brazil.
The sudden jump from space-age back to teenage makes McKenna’s career progression really hit home. Songs like Humongous and Make Me Your Queen are infused with a newfound nostalgia, seeming sweetly simplistic when stood next to the complex production and song-writing present on Zeros.
In his Zeros Album Show, Declan takes us on a journey, up into the stratosphere to contemplate life’s meaning in a dystopian world before grounding us again in the familiar, less-existential sounds of an outspoken, worldly boy navigating his adolescence.
Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor