WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Friday 17 September 2021
SETLIST: Beautiful Faces; Rapture; Sagitarrius A; Emily; Make Me Your Queen; The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home; Twice Your Size; The Key To Life On Earth; My House; Listen To Your Friends; Humongous; Isombard; You Better Believe; Be An Astronaut; Daniel, You’re Still A Child; Why Do You Feel So Down; Eventually, Darling; Brazil; British Bombs
It’s a Friday night and the excitement in the venue is palpable as 22-year-old McKenna steps out on stage in front of a screaming crowd of predominantly teenage boys and girls for what he describes as the biggest solo gig of his career so far.
- Read on for reasons including how you can see McKenna on tour this year and next
In the morning before this show McKenna posts on Facebook that there are about 200 tickets left to be sold for this gig and the one following the night after and that doesn’t seem bad for what is a 4,921-capacity venue with McKenna just 2 albums into a career that saw his last, Zeroes, peak at number 2 a year ago.
These dates have been much postponed because of Covid-19 and we can tell how pumped the crowd is for this gig because at one point they’re singing along wholeheartedly to the pre-show DJ and, curiously, Estelle’s American Boy while for us the deployment of Prince’s When Doves Cry and Madonna’s Like A Prayer signposted what we thought might be musical touch points for the evening.
Brixton, of course, was Bowie’s birthplace and has become synonymous with the late star and McKenna’s clearly a fan although he chooses to reveal himself singing the Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends tonight.
McKenna is a multi-instrumentalist and for the start of the gig he’s brandishing a guitar and it is the Bowie influences of the very Space Oddity-influenced Beautiful Faces which shine brightest.
New single My House (watch above) feels very Metronomy to us with McKenna at his most contemplatative strumming an acoustic guitar and focusing on his own isolation.
For us he’s at his most interesting when he’s discussing his pansexuality with Attitude and this is a direction we’d like to see more of from a young star who seems very much to be in the early stages of experimenting with something which might eventually become far more interesting.
Although the audience is predominantly teenage we’re approached by a woman we’re guessing was in her 50s, as are we, with tattoo sleeves on both arms who suggests we might have a daughter in the moshpit – we don’t but assume she does – who heads for the bar telling us how determined she is to enjoy tonight.
It’s a very gig moment – partially heard, drunken, mistaken and meant in misplaced camaraderie expressed in high spirits – and makes us chuckle.
Back on stage McKenna is sitting on a platform playing a very 70s-looking keyboard and once again drawing on that decade’s prog rock for the anthemic Daniel, You’re Still A Child. It’s a credibility and authenticity that the similarly styled former One Directioner Harry Styles would no doubt kill for.
McKenna’s an accomplished musician and the mix of Bowie, Beatles and indie influences are beguiling but we’re left with the sense that these biggest gigs of his career leave him at somewhat of a crossroads. He’s come so far sounding like so many of his idols but can he really now grasp the nettle and become even better known for a sound that is truly individual to him that he can make his own?