Sunday, December 1, 2013
Concert review: Macklemore showcased smart brand of hip-hop without getting geeky
Despite taking on serious topics like homophobia and drug abuse, Macklemore delivered his songs with humor and pizzazz.
GRAND PRAIRIE What if someone like Macklemore had hit it big 25 years ago? Would hip-hop have still become a genre marked by homophobia, violence and a mind-numbing obsession with weed, booze and bling?
Probably. But watching Macklemore thrill 5,000 screaming fans Saturday night at Verizon Theatre left you hopeful that his kinder, more cerebral brand of hip-hop will flourish in the future.
For the uninitiated, the 30-year-old Seattle rapper (alias Ben Haggerty) and producer-DJ Ryan Lewis stormed the charts this year with a string of smart hits including “Same Love,” an ode to same-sex marriage and a condemnation of gay-bashing in the rap world: “If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me/Have you read the YouTube comments lately?”, Macklemore rapped onstage, before turning the song’s catchy chorus over to singer Mary Lambert.
He prefaced “Same Love” by telling fans “I’m happy with the progress we’ve made in the last year in the forefront of equality.” But his forward movement didn’t stop at equal rights.
One of the show’s boldest statements was “Starting Over” and the rapper’s long intro about how pot and alcohol sapped his creativity and led him to rehab. He’s hardly the first musician to write about sobriety. But in a hip-hop culture that worships the high life, “Starting Over” served as a welcome reality check.
Macklemore first came to fame a year ago with “Thrift Shop,” a sardonic slap at materialism wrapped in a song about being stylish on the cheap. He got lots of comic mileage out of the hit Saturday, throwing old shirts to his fans and playing beat-the-clock with a faux leopard-skin coat that travelled through the crowd, onto his back, and back to its rightful owner. Just as powerful was the more serious “Wings,” an autobiographical sneaker-lust saga about how society teaches kids that consumerism is the key to happiness.
But none of those messages would have connected if he didn’t deliver them with such humor, energy and pizzazz. Backed by dancers and a five-piece band complete with live horns and strings, Macklemore led a three-ring circus full of wacky costumes, fireworks and enough streamers and confetti to fill the Grand Canyon.
The rapper has said he’s going to take a long break when his yearlong tour ends next month. But if he’s starting to get burned out, he didn’t certainly show it Saturday: Pogo-dancing, spinning, and constantly moving his muscular arms like a martial artist performing ballet, Macklemore proved that intellectual rappers don’t have be geeky or dull.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic.