Ever since those early days of ‘Brazil’ and ‘Paracetamol’, Declan McKenna has grabbed the world by the lapels and forced it to catch up. It may feel overblown to give out hyperbolic titles like “Voice Of A Generation”, but in Dec’s case, all the evidence suggests he’s just that for a feverish world of fans that continues to build and build. Taking his spot at London’s Royal Albert Hall as an opportunity to do something special, he’s invited a who’s who of friends and special guests to join him for a night that’s part wonderful house party, part jaw-dropping celebration.
Met with deafening screams from the off, an opening run of ‘Daniel, You’re Still A Child’, ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home’ and ‘Sagittarius A*’ sees Dec commanding the grand hall through singalongs and blistering hands-in-the-air release. Familiar favourites are given new life with fresh arrangements (‘Eventually, Darling’ and ‘Listen To Your Friends’ in particular stand bright) that only add to the sense of occasion. At every moment tonight, new faces jump on stage or swap instruments – all revolving and orbiting the world of Declan McKenna. It’s undeniable that he’s managed to step forward as a modern-day creative force and also a beating heart that makes the Royal Albert Hall feel almost homely.
The ridiculous scenes kick up a notch as his array of pals begin to take the stage – each adding their own distinct flair to proceedings. CMAT opens the door for Dec to air brand new tracks (alongside Josh McClorey and Anise) before spine-tingling duets on ‘Make Me Your Queen’ and ‘Emily’ (the former twisted into a campfire singalong with banjo in tow) stop the Royal Albert Hall in its tracks. After ‘Listen To Your Friends’, Georgia arrives to pour her own cocktail of feverish pop-club flavours onto ‘Rapture’ (turning its breakdowns into Daft Punk-esque twisters) and ‘Isombard’, jumping across the stage and letting off a sense of fireworks on an evening already reaching dizzy heights.
“We’re not done with surprises; I’m full of surprises,” cracks Dec, welcoming Alfie Templeman onstage with guitar hero swagger. ‘My House’ has Dec lead Alfie, Georgia and CMAT into another level of party, before ‘The Key To Life On Earth’ sees pandemonium erupt, welcomed like a national anthem.
Boundless fizzing energy, searing social commentary and a sense of freedom feed through every note of Declan’s set tonight. Surrounded by a star-studded batch of mates, it feels like a natural home for an artist born to seize the opportunity to transform such an iconic venue into a special evening that may never be repeated.
With the stage packed out for a grandstand finale cover of Bugsy Malone flick classic ‘You Give A Little Love’, the line that sticks out is “we could have been anything that we wanted to be”. Tonight proves Declan McKenna has done that and much, much more: the grand bow of everyone who’s turned out proves his standing as a modern genius. It’s an unforgettable evening that shows he’s not just here to have a good time – he’s here to take over.
Let’s see if The Proms can follow that.