Declan McKenna at Mr. Smalls – A Mesmerizing Blend of Indie Pop and Electric Energy

On June 1st, Indie Pop sensation Declan Mckenna had a show at Mr. Smalls Theater in Pittsburgh, PA for his The Big Return tour. Known for his infectious melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and stage presence, McKenna took the stage at the sold-out venue, instantly captivating the audience with his contagious energy. Pittsburgh was treated to an unforgettable evening of music, one that showcased McKenna’s repertoire of music spanning from 2017 to now. 

After years of waiting, I finally had the chance to see Declan Mckenna live. The last time that he came to Pittsburgh was all the way back in 2018, and that was right before I had discovered his music. It was my freshman year of highschool, and I remember my older sister playing the song “Make Me Your Queen” and the hit song “Brazil” in the car on our way to school. I quickly fell in love with the songs, and played them over and over again. As the years progressed, more of his songs began popping up in my playlists. It was not until 2020 that I realized I knew Declan’s whole discography. It is always special when you fall in love with an artist’s music without even knowing it. 

After the release of his most recent album Zeros, Declan’s original tour had to be postponed due to the pandemic. This left many of his fans without seeing him live for such a long time that when he returned to the stage, everyone was ecstatic. As the crowd awaited the start of Declan’s set, you could feel the energy in the room rising. 

The setlist was a great mix of both his older songs and newer ones. The songs that stood out the most to me were “Listen to Your Friends,” “The Key to Life on Earth,” and “British Bombs.” During “Listen to Your Friends,” a song about feeling stuck due to the current civil climate, the crowd sang along to every lyric. This gave me chills- the lyrics themselves are deep and gripping, but hearing them come from hundreds of voices was powerful. “The Key to Life on Earth” was the most joyous song of the set. The ending of the song builds up into a singalong-like chorus and the adrenaline that I felt during that moment was amazing. Madalyn and I were jumping and singing, and it created a strong burst of happiness among both us and the rest of the crowd.

The last song of the night was Declan’s politically charged single “British Bombs” which takes aim at the British arms trade. As Mckenna discussed in an interview with NME in 2019, he wanted to “write a song that was outright against war, in any form.” With an upbeat and bouncy rhythm and intense lyrics, it was impossible for the crowd to not go insane. You could feel both the joy from people loving the song, but also the anger that came with its meaning. During the bridge of the song, everyone was yelling the lyrics, pulling from deep inside themselves. It really showed the pent-up anger that young people have towards the violence and hatred in our world. It was both moving and reassuring that I am not alone in feeling that way. 

With a skillful blend of indie pop and thought-provoking themes, McKenna’s performance created an emotional journey. At the end of the night, I was very pleased with how the show went. I got to hear some of my favorite songs of all time, and got to see an incredible performance. I can not wait until Declan returns to Pittsburgh or another nearby city so that I can experience it all over again. It was an experience that will be cherished by those fortunate enough to have been there, reminding us of the impact that music can have on our lives.

Words by Ella Donovan along with photos by Madalyn Schaller. If reposting please credit @almostfamouszine.

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