There’s about 40 people queuing for food—bodies slackened and strewn with sunglasses and denim, ready to pay whatever they feel. It’s been half a century since the Sisters of the Good Shepherd were still using the Abbotsford Convent to bring succor to the impoverished and infirm of Melbourne. Nowadays the lines of human traffic snaking slowly towards food and clumps of unshaven youth scattered over the lawn are making the most of Lentil as Anything’s ‘Pay-What-You-Feel-the-Meal-Was-Worth’ system. But isn’t the only reason for the swarming popularity of an ex-nunnery on a Monday night.
“We have 7” vinyls for sale and we drew dicks on them so you should buy them. This next song is a sad song.“
Jesse Davidson’s contorted, 17 year old face cranes towards his toes, halfway through the journey it makes about once every song from microphone to stage stage floor. Jesse spends about half the show in a primeval hunch, his fingers grappling invisibly at guitar pedals. And it kind of works. He covets the mic as his drummer crowds over his drum kit, almost in a sort of recoil from the ghostly stone of the convent courtyard, from the fading light. Whatever the reason, initial reserve makes Jesse Davidson’s eventual release all the more satisfying. His face and voice crack in unison during a squalling rendition of Elvis’ 'Love Me’, shimmering layers of distorted blues climb into the dusk, his drummer towering momentarily above his kit, trumpet gripped in one hand, wailing into the gloam. Even his repeated stammering of the phrase "MacDemarco, Scotdrakula, Jesse Davidson, buzzwords” 3 times during his set is like a private joke, which slowly turns public during the course of the set.
The dark’s really gathering now. The last sun’s getting caught in the crown of an oak tree somewhere beyond the stage, and falling from the rusted pipes snaking over the convent walls. Clouds of bats are streak across the sky outside the venue, increasing by the minute in speed and volume. But noone seems to notice. A big, dirty wave of them fly directly above Mac DeMarco’s head while Scotdrakula are soundchecking, but he doesn’t see them, completely mesmerised as he stares into the guts of a food truck.
(or 'Scoutdrakula’ [the benevolent succubus?] according to the running sheet)
“Everybody keep it cool around this guy, keep it low. The fucking Fed in the front row”
I dare you not to have a good time while watching Scotdrakula. I fucking dare you. Particularly in the high pitched echo of the courtyard, Matt’s voice is like razor rust flaking over the jagged thrumming of Evianne and Dove’s rhythm section. It’s punk rock at its most effervescent. Some of the best moments are when Matt simply hangs his paws over the body of his guitar, screeching incantations at the crowd — something that often occurs before he yells “Whoo!”, swings his hands back towards the fret board and drowns the stage in warm fuzz. But as well as growing a small dancefloor at the foot of the stage, a strange new tone is also born during Scotdrakula’s set. One far stranger than a slacker punk show at a historic ex-nunnery. It’s a tone of deep Australiana, which takes the shape of cinema-sized visuals projected over and above the bands for the rest of the night. As Scotdrakula burn their way through jagged strains of love and loss, huge birds mate above them in Eucapypts, water rolls through red dust and kangaroos bound against desert sunsets in slow motion. It’s broadly confusing. But even so, the aggressive injection of Australian fauna into what is otherwise a very American tradition, doesn’t seem to deaden anyone’s enthusiasm. I don’t think anyone is thinking too hard about it. As Matt’s face splits on the last note of Scotdrakula’s set, issuing forth a blood curdling scream, I look at the projected vista of the Simpson Desert, mouth agape, just thinking: “cool dunes”.
Now the light’s gone. The convent and its gardens have been devoured by what feels like a particularly hungry dark. Closer to the Yarra the spot-lit oaks and horseless paddocks of the neighbouring children’s farm have definitely have started to take on the psychic weight of their history and walking out of the shadow electric and into the night itself makes the music in the air feel very weird indeed. So my elegant companion and I stroll pretty quickly back to the venue, young humans with turned up cuffs (on jeans, on cinos, on shirts) proliferating comfortingly as we reach the source of the noise.
“That’s a pretty nice cock. Give it up for that cock”
The genital tone set early by Jesse Davidson increases about five fold during the Mac DeMarco set. Maybe there’s something about being in an ex-nunnery that inspires an especially puerile reaction in young slackers. But probably not. Mac DeMarco by all accounts has been, like his young male peers, long enamoured with the instrument below his waist regardless of the venue (“This song’s about having a penis” etc). But genital obsession isn’t the only thread that continues to pull through Mac DeMarco’s set. The Australian nature cinema is also in full swing. As the opener 'Cooking up Something Good’ comes bouncing to a halt, a sea turtle is on screen, being eviscerated by a shark. And later, as alpine bees become trapped in creeping labyrinths of winter ice on the screen above the band, a shoe sails through the air and into the side of the kick drum. But again, I don’t think anyone’s really noticing this stuff, even when a Very Australian Sunset is dripping in molten reds over the screen and Mac’s bassist is slurring at Mac:
“He tastes like Taco Bell. Taco Bell. Good old North America. Now that’s What I’m talking about.” It’s all wildly entertaining. But everyone seems well entertained by Mac DeMarco alone. And for good reason. The words “This song is called 'Freaking out the Neighbourhood’…” inspires more crowd movement than the rest of the evening put together, and the words “this one’s called 'Baby’s Wearing Blue Jeans’…” instantly inspires shirtless crowd-surfing, and yes indeed, the activities of shirtlessness and crowd-surfing were simultaneous. However one of the most brow-furrowing, lip-bitingly engaging parts of the set was the massive medley of covers, all performed with the same damaged drawl, the same blackened hiss that can only be Mac Demarco. The medley extends from the anthemic dirge of Weezer’s 'Undone (The Sweater Song)’ through to the creaking arpeggios of 'Stairway to Heaven’ (with vocals muttered incoherently by an audience member—also engaging in a spell of shirtlessness). While a goanna is devouring a snake in the projections overhead, thrashing it against the desert sand until it is a red stain over its jaws, Mac DeMarco covers such gems as Tool’s 'Schism’, Limp Bizkit’s 'Break Stuff’ and the Beatles’ 'Blackbird’. It’s the first time that the background music has seems synchronous with the nature of the music. And then DeMarco’s gleeful musical tirade falls abruptly into his chiller gem 'Still Together’, which takes on a slightly creepy quality as a toad is dislodging from some sort of slick membrane on screen. Mac briefly leaves the stage to almost climb onto the roof and then seems to remember a lecture he probably received about Heritage buildings, and opts instead for a laconic crowd surf around the courtyard, under the watchful gaze of the courtyard’s 19 unlit upper storey windows. And the song ends perfectly as only it can, with what looks like Mac’s penis exposed as he holds his arms above his head and waves goodbye to the audience. The bass player bids us a consummately strange and faultlessly fitting goodbye, half looking at the screen above his head:
“Fuck you humans. I’m one of you. Let’s look at the bees enjoy themselves.”
Then the screen freezes.