Concert Review: Declan McKenna / Oracle Sisters @ Empire Live, 05/28/2023

On Sunday night, alternative/indie pop artist Declan McKenna brought his 2023 tour, The Big Return, to Albany and put on a memorable show at Empire Live. The English singer-songwriter is a confident and talented artist on the rise with a magnificent ability to tell stories through his music.

McKenna is best known for his songs that embrace his outspoken political views. He first gained recognition after winning the 2015 Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition. Shortly after his win, he self-released his debut single, “Brazil,” a song protesting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and its ignorance towards the heavy poverty affecting Brazilians. It has amassed over 380 million streams on Spotify and remains one of his top songs on multiple platforms.

Photo by Reid Schaefer

McKenna is joined by fellow alt-indie band Oracle Sisters to open the first leg of his North American tour. The Paris-based group comprises childhood friends Lewis Lazar and Christopher Willatt and Finnish musician Julia Johansen. They kicked off the night with a refreshing set of original songs, including hits “Asc. Scorpio” and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” as well as “Hail Mary” from their latest album Hydranism. Their stage presence was captivating and accompanied by dimmed lights at the request of the band (who prefer to see the audience when performing).

An introductory tune began to play around 9pm, and McKenna and his band took the stage. They opened the set with “You Better Believe!!!” from his 2020 album Zeros and followed after with “Paracetamol” and “Why Do You Feel So Down?” from his debut album What Do You Think About The Car? Before continuing with his set, McKenna took a second to welcome the crowd and declare his love for Albany, calling it his “favorite city in the whole world.” He also surprised us with an exciting new song on his new album that has yet to be announced.

Photo by Reid Schaefer

From dancing across the stage and jumping down onto the barricade to slowing things down on the piano, McKenna’s energy and stage presence was exhilarating throughout the night. His setlist consisted of a perfect mix of his current discography, including hits “The Key To Life on Earth,” “Make Me Your Queen,” “Beautiful Faces,” and his 2021 single “My House.” 

As his set began to close, the first few notes of “Brazil” began to play, and the crowd went wild. Phones flew into the air to record, and there wasn’t a single person standing still in the venue. McKenna transitioned right into “Isombard” from his debut album before exiting the stage. However, he was quickly (and loudly) called back to the stage for his encore. He started with a cover of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and closed the night with another hit single, “British Bombs.” The energy within the venue was outstanding, and he even ended the night by crowd-surfing with his guitar.

Photo by Reid Schaefer

McKenna continues his Upstate NY run with shows in Syracuse and Buffalo this week. He is also making his big return to the Big Apple in July, playing shows at Brooklyn Steel and Webster Hall. If you didn’t get a chance to see him in Albany, I would highly recommend catching one of these upcoming shows.

Photo Gallery of Oracle Sisters by Reid Schaefer

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