Review: Can Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Live Show Convert This Nonbeliever?
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis deliver a show that’s one-style-fits-all
It sounds like a murder scene at the Theatre in Madison Square Garden. There is a herd of scantily clad tweens in front of me already jumping and shrieking “MACKLEMORE!!!” and it’s only intermission between opener Talib Kweli and the highly sought-after headlining rap star. But several things tells me I’m not in Hiphoplandia anymore. To my left is an elderly couple sitting neatly with one leg over the other and to my right is a mother and son tandem who make me feel like I’m waiting for The Wiggles Live! A neon “M & RL” marquee presides over the crowd, along with a three-tiered, forest-y set that almost calls to mind a Willy Wonka playground.
But Macklemore hasn’t exactly filled my particular sweet tooth, often satisfied by a steady diet of Kendrick, Drake and Jay Z. Even with his monstrous success in the hip-hop space, I was here to actually charge the Seattle-bred duo with one offense: tattooing the hooks of their instant chart-hoggers “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” into my cerebrum unwillingly.
Mack and Ryan, who have sold out all three nights at the Garden’s mini-me venue, orchestrated a party that everyone from rap journos to fashion glitterati to fourth graders to EDM enthusiasts can all get hip to. Only wallflowers are not permitted. The main act already arrives on set, shining. Literally like he skipped the thrifting and went straight to Michael Jackson layaways and plucked the most glittery, tassly thing he could find. Every song has a show (and sometimes ensemble) in itself with funky montages playing in the triple-screen set-up, flashing images of the aforementioned MJ, actor Woody Harrelson, Sam Goody stores and lyrics for the whole arena to karaoke to. It is here that Mack hits the jackpot: nostalgia. Whether offering warm, fuzzy memories of teenagehoods past or overcoming drug addictions and your parents’ basement level brokeness, Macklemore is a man of the people and tonight, he’s running for hip-pop president. “We’re gonna fucking smash last night!,” he proclaims.
The man who has successfully straddled the line between rap and popular music—as a well-oiled independent machine at that—has a gift on the mic. Whether Mack is speed-spitting through his radio singles or throwing together a track on-the-spot (above), he’s still able to deliver the hell out of a solid 16 and salute hip-hop without estranging the pop crowd. He had folks reciting the Tribe Called Quest classic line “Can I Kick It?” and brought out M-1 of Dead Prez to perform. His openers are Big K.R.I.T. and Talib Kweli for goodness sake! Surprisingly, Mack throws in his most recognized records in the middle of his set and saves the highest note for last, tying in a knee-slapping vignette and a wig snatched from a 1970s Rod Stewart for “And We Danced” off his pre-fame project The Unplanned Mixtape.
Even his narrative foreplay before every song sequence would make any Intro to Speech professor proud. As he detailed his formative years in Brooklyn (where he actually found then dropped the “Professor” in his stage name), dressed like a “’70s golfer/porn star/dude who had never sex before,” several times or recalled having cheesecake with NBA legend Patrick Ewing (sadly, the Knicks were next door losing badly at the same damn time), Mack’s anecdotes stay with you. Like his hooks, they remind you of all the sad and silly missteps that took you to Here, no matter where it is. As I waved farewell to Planet Macklemore, I dropped the charges against the blonde hair-pompadoured lyricist. Hip-hop is no longer just about lyrical miracles but individuals with the total package: pen game, personality and perseverance. If hip-hop is the new rock-and-roll, then Macklemore may be on his way to becoming a rap god.—Adelle Platon (@adelleplaton)