Cartwheels, kazoos, and an infectious smile made Declan McKenna’s concert on November 1st, 2023, an unforgettable experience for me at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Unfortunately, the crowd did not replicate his vibrant energy.
McKenna is from England and his performance was “so British” (as described by enthusiastic fans next to me). With his quick transitions from playing guitar to the piano and even to the tambourine, Mckenna truly showcased his talents. Promoting his upcoming album What Happened to the Beach?, he opened with his recent single “Nothing Works,” an ecstatic song that introduced his consistently authentic sound. The eminent purple lighting aided the communication of his ambition and passion.
As an indie rock artist, McKenna has a way of transferring political and social messages through his addictive beats and songwriting. If his lyrics don’t express it enough, then his storytelling live does just the trick. During “Daniel, You’re Still a Child”, an empowering song from his second album, Zeros, it felt like I was watching a live play. His facial expressions while playing the piano were captivating, and I experienced his raw emotion through his voice.
Whether encouraging the audience to dance and clap during upbeat songs like “Isombard” and “Why Do You Feel So Down?” or directing the mic to the crowd during “Sympathy,” McKenna’s movements were engaging the entire time. There were pockets of dedicated fans who responded to his energy by following every sound and screaming every word, but this replication fell short throughout the venue. I was confused when the reaction to “Brazil” was not as powerful as the almost half a billion streams on Spotify might indicate. Although there were more cheers than previously, once he started playing “Brazil,” it was as if half the audience lost their voice. Worse, their movement died after the first chorus.
It might have been the range in demographics from young teens to people in their thirties that formed the disconnect of typical concert engagement, but I was surprised. Even more so because McKenna brought everything you look for when seeing a musician live. Through the way he sings with expressions that tell a story, he conveys his honesty and passion as something you want to listen to. His music represents more than just a catchy summer tune, but songs that are up for interpretation with active perspectives on current events around the world. The beauty of his concert was hearing his music that represents the younger generations come to life.
McKenna ended his set with an encore that consisted of a George Harrison cover of “All Things Shall Pass,” one he was excited to perform because of Harrison’s feature in the new Beatles track, and “British Bombs,” a fiery song about imperialism with a punk-pop melody. This is where the one-handed cartwheel came in as he entertained the crowd for the final time.
Allie Crow Buckley, a singer songwriter living in Los Angeles, opened for McKenna and provided a calmer performance with minimal crowd interaction. That said, she and her band reflected a consistent enjoyment of being on stage. Her music flowed through alternative, folk, and dream pop sounds that provided an ethereal experience with song titles like “Moonlit and Devious” and “As I Walk Into the Sea.” Buckley’s recent album Utopian Fantasy, which came out on May 14th, 2023, exemplifies a similar magical feel. Although she didn’t verbally promote her music, her angelic voice paired with a passionate drummer was convincing enough.