Live Reviews Music

Declan McKenna @ The Great Hall, Cardiff Student Union – Live review (10/09/21)

Words and Images by Rubie Barker

It has been a whole 18 months since I last attended a gig, at this very same venue and I couldn’t be more excited that this was my first concert back. Unsurprisingly to some, I am running late but as I run up the stairs I can hear the roar of the crowd as McKenna takes to the stage. 

 Declan McKenna opens the show, not with one of his hits, but with a British classic no one can help but sing along to. The Beatles, ‘With a little help from my friends’ is an instant crowd-pleaser and immediately puts everyone in a good mood. I imagine that for many in attendance like myself it is their first time at a concert in quite some time and it certainly goes down well with the crowd and sets the mood for a long-awaited night. This is the second attempt at touring Zeros after these dates were originally planned for April 2021, but most tickets have been sold out long before.

Image via Chuffmedia

Not just McKenna but the entire bands’ comfortable presence on stage put everyone at ease. In a black sparkling suit, he looks instantly in place, back where musicians belong, playing their songs for the people who enjoy their music so much. After opening with a Beatles number, the band lead him into Beautiful Faces with its bright unmistakable introductory phrase. It feels fitting for one of his opening songs to be describing “all the people going out tonight” and the longing to celebrate and be everywhere all at once. 

From here we are lead through some of the highlights of his new album, from the electric and futuristic sounding Rapture which keeps up the energy and pace, to the socially critical and politically charged Sagittarius A*. Throughout this run-through of his new album, the crowd never stops moving and the applauds never decrease in volume. It is clear that despite his highly anticipated second album Zeros having a delayed release in the height of the pandemic in September last year, that these tracks are loved as much as the hits from his debut album. The audience sings along with as much enthusiasm and listens as intently as they do to any of his original hits.

With his latest release My House, McKenna introduces a more hopeful tone to the lyrics, although the heavy themes often present in his songs don’t seem to have dampened the spirits of anyone listening here this evening. Despite only being released this summer, it still captures the attention of the room as they sway to the slower but still bright sounding song with its melodic guitar solo which is fully embraced and appreciated by all on stage and in the room. It feels a very reflective moment as we pause to listen to him sing of longing to “be somewhere I’m not allowed to go” as we are now in one of the places we longed to go back to when we were stuck in “my house”. 

The main section of the set is ended with the song Be an Astronaut, a song marked apart by its focus on piano but with vocals as strong and powerful as those which it follows. But with lyrics as charged as “boys will be boys” the more ballad driven song still packs as much power behind it live as could be hoped. With comparisons being drawn to both David Bowie and Elton John in the instrumental and vocals of this piece, he certainly lives up to these big names. To end the set, McKenna played two of his biggest hits with Brazil leading the way. Despite it being the first song he released almost 6 years ago on Bandcamp, kick-starting his career, it is still his most recognisable and popular song. The set was rounded off with one of his most recent hits, the politically charged British Bombs. The passion from the crowd as they sing along to the reprise is an energy unlike any I have seen at a concert before and perfectly summed up Declan McKenna and his band’s ability to capture and engage a crowd. With the tour now over and most of the dates selling out, it is clear that this second album is going to be one of many hit albums and that Declan McKenna hasn’t hit the height of his musical fame just yet.

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