Toward the end of his set on Friday at Seattle’s Wamu Theater, Macklemore stood at center stage, his fists raised like a prize fighter who’d just won the world championship.
By that point in the show, he had worked over the crowd and scored a hard-earned knockout with his mix of passionate wordplay, constant movement, and humble demeanor that revealed a man clearly grateful for the new-found fame. There was no doubting who won the night. He had earned every ounce of adulation pouring out of the crowd at that moment.
The show came at an interesting time for the Seattle rapper. Long an underground sensation with a devoted following in his hometown of Seattle, Macklemore has seen his star shine brighter in the public conscious over the past year. That star went supernova this week when Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis released their debut full-length, “The Heist.”
The independently-produced and self-released album has spent most of the time since its release at #1 on the iTunes charts and will likely end up as the second-best-selling record on the next Billboard charts. It’s no surprise, then, that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were able to sell out their hometown Wamu Theater — capacity: 7,500 — weeks in advance. Coupled with the release of “The Heist,” it would be a crowning moment for the Seattle native.
Like any good prizefighter, Macklemore rose to the moment.
He and Lewis — alongside a six-piece band — opened the show with the energetic cut “10,000 Hours,” staking his claim as an independent artist and shrugging off the king-making machine of Pitchfork. “10,000 Hours” made it clear that he didn’t need a “Best New Music” tag to validate himself as a rising star in the hip-hop world.
The next hour-and-a-half offered a near-perfect overview of Macklemore’s oversized, yet humble, personality.
The “us-against-the-world” narrative that’s become so integral to Macklemore’s story was given weight by the horn-heavy “Victory Lap” and the fast-paced “Can’t Hold Us,” helped along by a machine gun-like cadence that had the crowd clapping along. In concert, the tracks came across like celebratory self-help affirmations, a testament to Macklemore’s ability to triumph over life’s many obstacles — and distill those obstacles into intricate raps.
Part of that “local-boy-makes-good” story only became possible when Macklemore kicked his creativity-killing drug addiction. He referenced his struggles on “Otherside,” which detailed Macklemore’s drug abuse and new-found sobriety. Later in the set, he performed “Starting Over,” which chronicled his subsequent relapse and its consequences: “If I can be an example of getting sober / Then I can be an example of starting over.”
Macklemore’s silliness was on display as well, as evidenced by “Thrift Shop,” his horn-driven ode to secondhand stores. Thousands sang along to the catchy, good-natured track, but what made it come alive in concert was Macklemore’s passion for such a seemingly trivial topic. It didn’t matter that Macklemore was rapping about hand-me-downs while rocking a fur coat and hat; he was as passionate about thrift shops as he would be about drug abuse and gay marriage.
Seattle itself shows up, time and time again, as a chief character in Macklemore’s narratives. Few musicians embody or embrace their hometown like Macklemore. The Capitol Hill native shouts the city out on multiple tracks and works with a slew of Emerald City artists — a few of which joined him on stage Friday. He repped the hometown with “My Oh My,” his tribute to late Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus, and “The Town,” his tribute to Seattle’s hip-hop scene. On this night, he clearly relished being able to perform in front of such a passionate hometown crowd.
Even more than his connection to Seattle, Macklemore might be best known for his message-oriented music and the direct manner with which he tackles touchy topics.
Midway through Friday’s set, Macklemore was at his most poignant on the recently-released “Same Love.” He introduced the pro-gay marriage track by calling it “the most important song I’ve ever written. You can only watch people be oppressed for so long without saying something.” With that, he launched into the heartfelt song, backed by Molly Lambert. Nearly all of the 7,500 in attendance sang along to its uplifting chorus, giving the evening its emotional centerpiece.
For a rapper tagged as preachy, Macklemore knows how to end his shows on a fun note. After a brief encore break, he returned to the stage as his flamboyant, fun-loving alter ego Sir Raven Bowie (clad in a ridiculous blond wig and cape) for a trio of songs.
The first was the buoyant “Castle.” (Sample lyric: “Unicorns and wizard sleeves / Hammer pants and make believe / Pirate ships sailing off to sea”) Macklemore has been accused of taking himself too seriously on occasion, but the delirium of “Castle” makes it clear that he’s as comfortable on the dance floor as he is the soapbox.
“Castle” led into “And We Danced,” an over-the-top ode to the dance floor. It’s a sharp left turn from the bulk of his catalog, an unapologetic, ridiculous anthem designed to get booties shaking. Just witness the overwrought delivery and utter conviction with which Macklemore belts out the lines “I will not, I will not give a damn who watches me / I will live, I will live! / Liberate the fox in me.” For a few moments on Friday night, there wasn’t a soul in sight whose inner fox wasn’t liberated; it was pandemonium as thousands danced, jump around, and sang along.
With that, it was time for Macklemore’s customary closer, “Irish Celebration.” The celebration of Macklemore’s Irish heritage and all things Ireland started with a bang — literally, as confetti rained on the crowd. The vast majority of the crowd was too young for anything stronger than Red Bull, but that didn’t stop them from screaming along as Macklemore soaked in the moment, as if he’d been preparing for it all of his life: “We put our glass to the sky and lift up / And live tonight cause you can’t take it with ya.”