It had been well over a year since I’d been to a hip-hop show. Sure, I’d seen hip-hop acts at festivals, but the last true hip-hop show I attended was the P.O.S., Dessa, Grieves show back in February of last year. It’s not that I don’t like hip-hop, it’s just that I have been burned by these artists too many times. They don’t take the stage until 2 hours past their set time, the sound is awful, they only perform a few actual songs and leave the rest up to their awful protégées while their entourage encourages us to ‘put our hands in the air’ even though there is nothing to inspire such an act. You end up leaving the venue feeling like you sat through 2 hours of previews without a feature presentation. This is the reason I have not seen Macklemore even though he has come through Colorado at least 3 times since I’ve lived here.
My first introduction to the emcee from Seattle was a song called Irish Celebration. We were heading to a bar after the Broken Bells show and it was one of those ‘you gotta hear this guy’ moments. ‘I’m an Irishman, Leather weathered Irish skin, Beard orange as the sunset over the flag’ At first I thought it was a joke. A white rapper from Seattle schooling us on Ireland’s bloody history? He couldn’t be for real. But with lines like ‘I drank Old Crow, but pretended it was Jameson. Dad sipped Guinness, I sipped Old English, ‘Til he sat me down at 16 and said boy, this is what a beer is’, you couldn’t help but get sucked in. I wanted to hear more of what this kid had to say, but we had arrived at our destination. I proceeded to drink Guinness and Jameson (not pretending it was anything else) and I forgot about that certain Irish rhyme until much later in the year.
The same guy who introduced me to Macklemore that night would hit me up every time he came to town and I could never make it. It was just never a priority. But this time around I actually took the time to download the The VS. EP that Macklemore did with Ryan Lewis and I realized this was much more than a gimmick. Tracks like Kings document a decade in which kids were murdered over $100 sneakers. Otherside is a social and personal narrative about the dangers of a decade in which cough syrup has become the next designer drug. Samples from Arcade Fire and The Killers are layered over some of the best beats I’ve heard this side of the new century. Irish Celebration exists on this EP as well and it provides that ‘fist in the air’ anthem; a necessary interlude to balance out the stories of addiction, death and loss. Overall, this is very strong release from two very talented artists. The VS. EP is why I finally got my ass to a Macklemore show.
We didn’t get to the Bluebird until a few minutes before the set. Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and a trumpet player took the stage at 10:45pm. They were right on time. This can probably be explained by Macklemore’s newfound sobriety. But whatever the reason, it was so nice not to stand around for hours waiting for what could turn out to be a disappointing show. It was also refreshing to see a simple stage setup. Ryan Lewis on his tables, Macklemore with his mic and the trumpet player with his horn. No entourage, no drunk girls, no rags in the air, no huge gold chains…just some amazing beats, a gifted lyricist and some brass to add a little flavor. I did not recognize the first song, but I knew right away this would be my type of hip-hop show, one that would be about the music and not the image.
For the next hour and a half we were treated to every song on The VS. EP along with some other crowd favorites such as The Town and The End. At one point he threw in a new song where he proved he can impersonate Twista without losing his trademark style. Personal stories of addiction and sobriety, ‘hands in the air’ anthems that not only deserved, but demanded crowd interaction and a single emcee who held the collective consciousness of the venue in the palm of his hand made for a unique night of hip-hop. Some of the more established rappers would do well to learn a lesson from this whiteboy from the Pacific Northwest. The only complaint I have is with it took until about the 3rd song to get the sound right and even then the vocals were never loud enough. When they were chanting ‘turn it up’ someone from the Bluebird should have realized they were talking about his mic! I realize he was having trouble with his throat after touring for 2 months, but the the vocal could have been corrected on the soundboard.
Macklemore also proved to be an extremely funny guy. I wish I could remember every anecdote he used to get the crowd laughing as hard as they were dancing, but here are a few…
How many people were born in the 70’s?
(to which I raised my hand with a few others)
Cool, we got a few, usually it’s just a drunk 16 year old who doesn’t know what the fuck the 70’s were and one old dude who’s blacked out at the bar.
(this made me feel like that ‘old dude’ but couldn’t help but laugh)
Anyone seen that movie Labyrinth? It’s got David ‘fucking’ Bowie and he wears a wig and kidnaps a baby and they go kick it with some goblins and it’s an incredible movie. I highly recommend it.
(talking about buying fake shit on Canal St in NYC, he brings out a fake Rick Ross chain)
Rick Ross has a chain of himself and he then wears it on himself. Give it up for Rick Ross.
I paid $32 for this and if I wasn’t an independent rapper I’d throw it into the crowd.
My chain is fake as fuck, but it didn’t cost shit.
The main set ended with The End, a song about the end of the dance, the end of high school and the end of innocence. A song that probably hit a little closer to home for the majority of the crowd that was born in the 90’s, but still a great song even to those of us who saw the end of those three things in the 90’s.
The encore had Macklemore in a Bowie wig and cape ‘and we danced and we cried and we laughed and had a really really really good time’. Proving once again that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The night ended with a sing-along rendition of Irish Celebration…a celebration that really, really good hip-hop shows do still exist.