In the morning before his performance at Boston Calling on Saturday, alternative indie-pop artist Declan McKenna said he was planning to opt for a more laid-back set.
“I think the weather’s gonna have a bit to do with it today,” McKenna said in an interview with The Heights. “We’re gonna have to throw a couple of chill tunes in there ’cuz it’s gonna be hot and people don’t want to be dancing too much.”
While McKenna did intersperse many mellow songs into his set, he never lacked energy or stage presence during his set. And he certainly danced enough on behalf of the audience.
McKenna came out onto the Blue Stage to the cheers of fans and immediately started playing the guitar rhythm of “British Bombs,” a high energy political song about the United Kingdom’s foreign policies, specifically those regarding the arms trade. He moved around to the front of the stage to play to the audience before returning to the microphone, jumping up and down and inspiring the audience to do the same.
Toward the end of the song, McKenna put down his guitar and ran up on the platform at the back of the stage and started thrashing around. He then ran back to the microphone to sing again, kicking out his legs to the beat of the song. Even though McKenna said he planned a more mellow set, he did not perform like it, and neither did the audience.
Maybe it had something to do with the festival setting. McKenna said that playing festivals always brings a different energy than a regular tour stop.
“There’s something about a festival where when you’re going out into the festival just to enjoy it, you almost give yourself to it a little more,” McKenna said. “You’ve submitted to the ethos of the whole thing, and you kind of become one with the music.”
McKenna introduced himself to the audience before jumping into the next song, “Paracetamol,” a slowed-down track about the media’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Fans in the audience still emphatically screamed the lyrics and swayed along to the beat despite the song’s more mellow and serious tone.
McKenna said that for him, music and political statements have always gone hand in hand. He said he grew up listening to artists who used music to express their “discontent with the state of things.” McKenna said he also views music as a way to ponder all sorts of messages and ideas and reach people if the artist can make it enjoyable.
“It’s just a good way to be heard,” McKenna said. “Sometimes I want it to be just a feel good thing and sometimes you really have something to say with it.”
McKenna then picked up his acoustic guitar for “Listen to Your Friends,” before keeping the audience moving for the rest of his performance.
“I was gonna keep the set kinda chill for you today because of the weather, but that don’t mean we ain’t dancing,” McKenna said as he started playing “Why Do You Feel So Down?”
McKenna wore black tinted sunglasses, yellow trousers, and a blue jacket with a gold sequin design of angel wings on the back. His flashy outfit looked like some sort of incarnation of David Bowie or Mick Jagger—and his energy certainly matched theirs too.
McKenna continued his set with a mix of songs from his first album What Do You Think About the Car? and Zeros, the album he is currently on tour for. His keyboardist exchanged the keys for a flute during “My House,” and McKenna did a mini moonwalk style dance during the bridge of “Beautiful Faces.”
He finished off his set with an extended version of his biggest hit “Brazil,” a song McKenna wrote when he was 15. McKenna stood on an amp and danced toward the end of the song, almost missing the beginning of the bridge as he quickly jumped off and started singing into the microphone. Just when the audience thought the show was over, McKenna and his band started to play the last verse again.
The set was truly over when McKenna finished singing and jumped down off the stage to run into and past the audience—an unexpected end to his energetic set.
As for what’s next for McKenna, he will play shows across North America on his The Big Return Tour that started on May 25 and is working on putting out new music soon. McKenna said his new music will be different from that on Zeros, which was released in 2020.
“Zeros is all about intensity and the closest thing to a rock album I’ll probably make so this [new music] is a little more relaxed and a little more intimate,” McKenna said.
The new songs, he said, are more digital in contrast to the live band he recorded Zeros with. McKenna said many of his new songs he recorded in his bedroom. For his future projects, he said that he wants to keep making music he would have carried on doing when he was 15 and to keep paving his own path in the music world.
“That’s so important for creativity, genuinely, to not do things the right way [because] when you do things the right way, you’re kind of missing the point of what it’s all about,” McKenna said. “If you just think about doing your own thing, that’s what people want, they want a slice of you, and that’s what you can offer if you just enjoy it.”