Toward the last part of his set at Red Rocks, Macklemore got a little confessional. He shared with us how since he was in his early teens he's had no control over his consumption of drugs and alcohol, and he admitted to having spent many a day playing video games, getting fucked up, jacking off and taking naps -- not necessarily in that order. But then one day, he came to the realization that in order to do music for real and make something of himself he would have to get sober, and so in 2008, he did. However, a few years later after finally realizing some success on the road, he came home and, like many people, after such a real emotional and existential high sustained for weeks and months, he didn't really know what to do with himself or to handle normal reality, so he relapsed.
In doing so, he says, he felt like he would look like a hypocrite to friends, family and fans (none of which were mutually exclusive) for writing "Otherside." Also, he hadn't told anyone -- not his family, not Ryan Lewis, not anybody -- about his relapse at the time. The only therapy he knew was getting back to making music, and so he wrote and recorded "Starting Over." Maybe there was a bit of theater in the presentation, but when the song kicked in, it felt like it was coming from a very real place.
And that was the tone of the whole show, and Macklemore's material, generally. A heightened yet paradoxically grounded reality. The light show truly added to the feel of being in a special place and time. Sure, there was fog projected well into the sky, but that made it so that when columns of bright light were cast forth to create a kind of fan and nimbus of white light, it reached far above the stage and higher into the sky than any show I remember seeing at Red Rocks over many years. It was like a symbol of what Macklemore and Lewis were trying to achieve with their music -- an expansive and elevated spirit.
Brimming with passion and charged with a palpable charisma, Macklemore and Lewis played all the hits going back to the first song they wrote for The VS EP, "Life is Cinema." With three bright, one might even say brilliant, LED screens on stage displaying snippets of animated lyrics at times, there was constant motion on stage with plenty of movement and dancing in the crowd, as well.
Before "Thrift Shop," Macklemore told us he came out to the show without his fur coat and someone in the audience apparently loaned him a brown, bear coat that he wore for the duration of the performance. Afterward he acknowledged that some people might think it was "fucked up" that he was wearing the fur of an animal. To which he pointed out that the animal was long dead and acquired at a thrift store, and that was it better being worn than sitting unused in a closet or hanging on the rack at a thrift store.
Close to mid-set Macklemore told us that earlier in the day someone asked him if he could play one song of his songs for the whole world, what would it be? Of course he said it was his song about equality and tolerance, "Same Love." A lot of people clearly knew the song, and later, Macklemore told us it was a beautiful thing to hear so many people singing along to the chorus of the song.
Before that performance came the refreshingly vulnerable "Otherside." Sure, by the time the show was closing out the temperature had dropped considerably, but Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Owuor Arunga on the horn and everyone else on stage gave as good as they got from an audience that showered them with love and enthusiasm.
The show got started with Neelais from Colorado. His electronica inflected hip-hop had surprisingly diverse organic elements in the mix. At the end of the set, he "covered" Talking Heads' classic hit, "Once in a Lifetime." Except that in his rendition, he extended the instrumental interlude in the middle and laid down his own able rapping.
After his set, Chuck Morris came up and expressed his surprise and pleasure that a show in the dead of winter was sold out before he introduced Governor John Hickenlooper, who expressed some of his own enthusiasm for the event.
Coming on to stage with a sample of "In the Morning of the Magicians" by Flaming Lips playing through the sound system, the Grouch and Eligh came out to some truly earth-moving bass and rapped with a reference to the Geto Boys. These members of Living Legends clearly haven't been trapped by their origins in '90s hip-hop because there was plenty of modern hip-hop in their sound, much of which they were part of influencing, including that kind of dense lyrics and then release dynamics that likely had a big impact on Eyedea & Abilities, particularly the freeform mulch of sounds, samples and styles into a cohesive aesthetic.
Next up was Major Lazer. As "Major Lazer" and Lazer's logo -- a kind of appropriation of the MTV logo with a large capital M and "lzr" in a script near the bottom right -- blinked in rapid succession of colors, a strange, electronic voice started in lower registers and then rose to a higher pitch, as the rhythm accelerated and the words, such as they were, became discernible. When the music got going it was like a shifting array of dub, moombahton and dubstep -- often really blurring the lines between all of it at points.
Though not glitch, the vibe of the visual side of the show changed on a dime or generally had constant movement like the two video screens on each side of the back of the stage scrolling seven columns of the Major Lazer logo each in different colors. The visuals and the music changed tone, not drastically but decidedly without warning, with a tasteful pause in the action. Sometime later in the set, Major Lazer got a bunch of women on the stage to dance to "Bubble Butt."
Apparently the performance wasn't cutting it, though, and Lazer got some people who were part of his crew to show everyone how it was done. It was more of a bounce thing than standard club dancing, and the two women set up center stage facing away, upside down and engaged in some rapid rump shaking -- which of course takes more of a physical commitment than standing there and waving your arms, swaying and moving your hips a little.
Personal Bias: I think Macklemore & Ryan Lewis aren't just another hip-hop team. They're writing music that is both respectable as music alone but which is an insightful take on the human condition without getting preachy.
Random Detail: Ran into promoter Tony Mason at the show working merch.
By the Way: The barbacoa chili that was being served at the top of the amphitheater by Chipotle was pretty good on a night like this.