Macklemore at the Ogden Theatre, 12/6/12
All Macklemore has to do is pose dramatically to induce the same frenzied reaction from an audience that a slightly lesser MC would draw with their signature song. Granted, a very sizable portion of his Denver audience comprised easily riled high school girls, but that should truly take nothing away from the fact that the stories he tells are utterly compelling, and his performance at the Ogden was not one iota short of exhilarating. His stories are deeply personal, universally relatable and delivered with such poignancy that it becomes impossible not to be moved.
Macklemore is a unique rapper in a lot of ways. His flow is an acquired taste; he says more words in less time than anybody who sounds as unhurried as him. He's super lyrical, and while most lyrical rappers lose something in their live performance because it's hard to hear what they're saying, Macklemore is so enthusiastic and earnest that you can feel what he's communicating, even if you can't hear exactly what he's saying. More important than any of these qualities, though, is his commitment to revealing himself in the hopes of connecting with others.
Macklemore begins his free love anthem, "Same Love," which was everywhere on social media a month ago, with the line, "When I was in third grade, I thought I was gay." Forget that pretty much no other rapper (except maybe Lil B) would say such a potentially emasculating thing about himself; most of the kids I went to high school with wouldn't have been caught dead singing "I can't change even if I tried" in the name of same-sex love. With his first lines, Macklemore makes it okay to not be so defiantly masculine, which is not only progressive, it's freeing.
With songs like "My Oh My," Macklemore reaches deep into his memory banks to recall what are obviously some of his dearest recollections listening to baseball on the radio with his father. He gives us a look into who he really is, something which most rappers are all too eager to hide. His passion is so evidently genuine, and his storytelling is so adept, that you are transported to the dusty garage where he and his dad used to listen to games, and you feel the excitement of the game as if you were at the ballpark.
Macklemore also gave us a strikingly candid look into his experience with addiction. He talked about being on the road, tired, but fueled by the energy of his fans, then going home and not having that support and losing his three and a half years of sobriety. In the wake of this failure, he wrote "Starting Over," in which he says, powerfully, "If I could be an example of being sober, I could be an example of starting over." Macklemore also captured the audience with the cautionary drug tale, "Otherside," which, by its end, had the audience promising, "It won't be us," which was pretty sad and beautiful at the same time.
Not only does Macklemore connect to the audience with his lyrics, he seems like a legitimately affable and humorous guy. Macklemore calls Colorado his second hip-hop home for many reasons, but most memorably he complimented our women for their beauty and our men for their mustaches (the type that icicles hang from) and strong forearms (from masturbation). He relayed to us the fact that he put on a weird wig and a coat and literally scooted by the early arrivals in line outside to "judge the shit out of them" and was pleasantly surprised by the fur coats they wore.
Before "Thrift Shop," a song that Macklemore was dressed for the entire show, the rapper asked to borrow one from an audience member and marveled at its Colorado Brown Bear material. He justified his wearing of fur in three compelling points: One, the fact that animal has been dead for 45 years. Two, it was bought from a thrift shop. And three, by wearing the coats, he is giving these animals a second chance to do it bigger in the afterlife than they ever could in their first. Hard to argue with that.
Ryan Lewis at the Ogden Theatre last night. Slide show: Macklemore and fans at the Ogden
And of course we would be remiss if we didn't mention the extraordinary contribution to the show of producer Ryan Lewis. Macklemore is a great MC, but he wouldn't have close to the instant appeal he has without the insanely danceable beats that Lewis provides. This night, the producer doubled as a hype man. He climbed on the set, sang his heart out and dived into the eager crowd. Macklemore has a sturdy career, but Lewis is the foundation.
As the show closed, after two invigorating encores, "And We Danced" and "Irish Celebration", one which could not have been followed by anything but the other, Macklemore in a sparkling purple cape and glam-metal blonde wig -- a character he called Raven Bowie -- thanked the audience for what truly must have been one of the most hyped stops on his fifty city tour.
Hanging on his every word, refusing to leave or stop screaming, the crowd cheered relentlessly as Macklemore directed the attention to everybody but himself: the performers, the tour manager, the lights guy, everybody. It was the perfect end to a performance bursting with love and punctuated with humble sincerity.
Xperience at the Ogden Theatre last night. Slide show: Macklemore and fans at the Ogden
Xperience opened the show to an already electric audience. One half of the group Step Cousins with Macklemore, Xperience and Macklemore share a kinship to the Northwest and a level of consciousness that was present in each one of the night's performers. Xperience gave a soulful set that definitely got the show rolling and ended with some rousing a capella rhymes and vocals.
Dee-1 came next with a style that combined the lazy (in a good way) Louisiana flow of Lil' Wayne with Macklemore's wont for positivity. Dee-1 may have provided the highlight of the night when he performed "The Man in my City," which features Mannie Fresh and Juvenile, but since Juve and Mannie Fresh weren't present, he invited a dude named David to freestyle the second verse. He was so pumped up, it was hard to hear what he was saying, but he still killed it, and the crowd went bonkers. Apparently, Dee-1 used to teach middle school math, and though he's left the classroom, he hasn't quit teaching; like Xperience, he provided some inspiring a capella and finished poetic with "One Man Army."
Personal Bias: I always kind of thought Macklemore was kind of corny, and that his lyrics were often a little contrived, but when you're immersed in a sea of people that so genuinely buy into what he's saying, it's hard not like him.
Random Detail: Two people passed out near the front of the audience before Macklemore even started. The stage crew reacted quickly and started tossing out water bottles to the crowd.
By the Way: Macklemore said his favorite part of the tour has been hearing young people across the country sing the refrain "Love is patient," from "Same Love".
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