Concert Review: Declan McKenna, Kemba Live, Columbus, OH

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Declan McKenna Live

Photos: Liza Wilson

Singer/songwriters are doing decent business at the moment and reaching wider audiences. Many are landing tracks in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, while some do well on standard alternative and AAA radio here in America. If this is your bag, Declan McKenna should be on your RADAR if he’s not already.

Declan McKenna signing to his fans in Columbus, OH

While his sound is quite contemporary, his singer/songwriter style recalls the greats going back to Elvis Costello, Roddy Frame, and even Bob Dylan. Yes, he’s young, but he already has two powerful albums under his belt and puts on a cracking live show.

Welcome to the Midwest

His Columbus, Ohio appearance was sponsored by the city’s longtime alternative radio station WWCD. Oddly, the fans that turned up were decidedly young and female. Sure, he’s so cute, you could just eat him up, but there’s much more to this young Londoner. His material will age well, you can tell.

Declan playing and singing

Also, having young fans is what rock & roll is all about.

McKenna hasn’t had the same chart success in his native UK as, say, his peer George Ezra, but he is no less popular in the grand scheme of things, drawing huge festival crowds and receiving steady airplay on BBC Radio 1.

With a nod to The Beatles, McKenna took the stage to an acapella version of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” He then opened with one of his singles, one that was played on Radio 1 quite a bit, “Beautiful Faces,” followed by “Rapture” and “Sagittarius A*,” all from his second long-player Zeros.

This segued nicely into “Make Me your Queen” from his debut What You Think about the Car?  Not far in, and he’s already commented on social media, the crumbling state of the world and how it could end, along with an interpersonal tune. Things then got rocking with one of his early hits, “The Kids Don’t Want to Come Home,” a former Hottest Record in the World on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 program.

A Voice for His Generation

The crowd sang along to every word. Sure, there was general screaming, but it seemed that it was more than mindless mimicry and bopping up and down. Declan was not only singing to his fans but for them as a spokesman for their generation.

Other highlights included “My House” and “The Key to Life on Earth.” The latter demonstrates McKenna’s sense of humor, but not in the lyrics. The music video for this track featured actor Alex Lawther from the TV series The End of the F***ing World. Fans of both noted how they resembled each other, so Lawther and McKenna had a bit of fun. Turns out they are fans of each other as well.

“Isombard,” “You Better Believe!!!” and “Be an Astronaut” made for a strong finish. The crowd was able to catch its breath with the first two songs of the encore, “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” and “Eventually, Darling.”

Declan McKenna live with guitar

Declan McKenna sings and plays hard

The Big Finish

Between songs, McKenna noted, “Iron Maiden are playing across the street.” Indeed, the veteran rockers were a few blocks away in the big hockey arena. McKenna chuckled and added, “and here we are killing Rock & Roll,” before things went off with “Why Do You Feel So Down,” an early “hit,” followed by his best-known track “Brazil” (UK #56), and the epic “British Bombs.” The final one made statements on so many levels as McKenna flew about the stage, banging away on a Union Jack guitar.

Declan McKenna sent the crowd home happy, exhausted, and no doubt anxiously waiting for his return to their town.

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PF WilsonConcert Review: Declan McKenna, Kemba Live, Columbus, OH