Live review: Declan McKenna @ Northumbria Institute

By Christy Cheung

When indie-rock singer-songwriter Declan McKenna stepped on to Northumbria Institute’s stage, looking fly in a casual Dodgers baseball shirt, we knew we were in for a good Friday night. McKenna’s opening band, Feet, had spent the evening so far warming up the crowd with a vibrant and energetic performance: their powerful vocals served to prepare the crowd for the main act to come, and even though my feet (no pun intended) ached after hours of queuing in the cold, the audience’s enthusiasm for Declan McKenna was contagious.

McKenna came on stage and started the show with his song ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home. I admire the fact that he pens all his own lyrics, and in this song, he addresses the struggles of teenagers looking for hope in spite of the dark things happening in the world. It was a topic I could relate to deeply, and with his soulful voice, my feelings were magnified. I was so deeply moved I had to fight the urge to cry. Perhaps McKenna’s lyrical talent was why everyone in the crowd seemed to know the words to every single song; once he got to the chorus, the crowd was screaming the lyrics “you don’t know how to give love to anyone” in unison. This was a feat that I thought only world-class artists could achieve, but it seemed to me that 19-year-old McKenna, active in the music industry for only three years, has achieved it.

Another highlight of the night was ‘Humongous’, which is not only my favourite song from McKenna’s debut album What Do You Think About The Car? but coincidentally also his favourite song to play live. According to McKenna, it was “funny seeing people mosh to a 6/4 beat”. And it was. I was mildly surprised by the degree of moshing in the show: you would think that the soft indie songs that McKenna specializes in should not go well with aggressive pushing, but somehow, the audience made it work. Even though I am not a big fan of mosh pits, the easily danceable beats of McKenna’s songs made moshing endurable even for me, and I actually ended up enjoying myself in the midst of the writhing bodies.

People say that “it’s not a Declan McKenna gig without a failed crowd surf”, so I was looking forward to witnessing this for myself. Much to my dismay, McKenna was feeling unwell on the night and had his guitarist Gabby do the honours for him – fortunately for her, she managed to complete her crowd surf successfully, and was not dropped by the crowd. Despite his illness, McKenna’s singing performance was superb, one thing I felt he could have done better was his interaction with the crowd. I love it when I’m able to feel a connection with the artist during a gig, but there wasn’t a lot of audience interaction during the performance. Perhaps this was because of time constraints, but I would have loved it if he had expressed how he felt about Newcastle or the crowd and made his show feel more personal.

From the crowd bellowing the football chant “Oh Declan McKenna” in unison to the tune of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ before the show, to McKenna cheesily singing “I love my local sports team, local sports team loves me” for no reason at all to get the crowd hyped, Northumbria Institute was bathed in the passionate and enthralling voice of Declan McKenna. Forget about a coat, Declan McKenna’s soothing voice is enough to warm you up in the Newcastle autumn chill.

Photograph: Drew de F Fawkes via Flickr

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