By the time Macklemore & Ryan Lewis reached their smash “Can’t Hold Us” last night at the sold-out Theater at Madison Square Garden, it felt like a campaign victory party.
There was confetti. There were cheerleader-like dancers. There was a lot of glad-handing and, of course, a lot of cheering. Macklemore, after all, is quite the showman and has a great ability to make people feel united in a moment.
Sometimes it feels like Macklemore is on the campaign trail, like he’s politicking for he and producer/DJ Ryan Lewis to get to speak for an underrepresented segment of mainstream hip-hop.
Their platform is certainly compelling. They’re for fiscal responsibility (“Thrift Shop”) and the kind of intellectualism that comes in Malcolm Gladwell books (“10,000 Hours”). They’re also anti-bullying and, now famously, for equal rights for same-sex couples (“Same Love”).
Their live show Wednesday night (they return again Thursday and Friday nights) added more planks to their hip-hop agenda, with the increased musicality that comes with bringing a horn section and a string section onstage. (And they don’t have a full drum kit or a bassist onstage, presumably to keep the focus on the Macklemore’s rhymes and not the beat.) They also showed respect to the traditions of hip-hop, offering a freestyle in the middle of the show that was based on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It,” though if it was some sort of tribute to the late Lou Reed by incorporating “Walk on the Wild Side,” Macklemore made no mention of it.
Perhaps most importantly, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feel a sense of accountability. “Our words have weight,” Macklemore said before “Same Love.” “We can use our words to lift up people or put other people down.”
Throughout their 100-minute show, they made it clear which side of that argument they are on. Macklemore is able to pull all this off without sounding preachy by speaking from the heart, whether it’s about his past troubles with drugs and alcohol or his stand against $50 T-shirts, and by keeping the energy level up. There was so much bouncing in the theater that the floor was shaking, even before Macklemore leaped into the audience to do some crowd surfing.
The entire spectacle left no doubt as to why Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have become 2013’s breakout stars or whether their rise will continue until the ceiling can’t hold them.
SET LIST: 10,000 Hours / Crew Cuts / Life Is Cinema / Thrift Shop (with Wanz) / Otherside (a cappella) / Starting Over / Same Love (with Mary Lambert) / Freestyle / Can't Hold Us (with Ray Dalton) / White Walls (with Hollis) / Wing$ // ENCORE: And We Danced / Irish Celebration / Can't Hold Us Reprise (with Ray Dalton)