by Josh Bis
on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 7:06 PM
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at Key Arena
Last night, local boys made good, Ryan Lewis and Macklemore played the first of a three-night engagement (can we call it a "residency"?) at Key Arena. Although I was just in that hallowed venue a week ago for a Ball of the Hall Decking variety, I can't actually remember the last time that I went to an actual "arena show" on this level. Let me assure you, it was a real Positive Vibrations Power Hour Spectacular that included all of the hits—as someone who hasn't been a close follower of their rise to fame, their recent cultural dominance is such that I recognized almost everything. It was equal parts fun and mind-boggling.
Some semi-anthropological wide-eyed observations, as well as a few more photos taken from the back of the arena along with a gaggle of photographers clustered near the sound booth (but taking care not to obstruct the views of people who "payed to be there"), after the jump.
Things that happen in the crowd while people are waiting for the giant The Heist flag to drop, signaling the beginning of The Spectacle: so many selfsies, not limited to girls in fake furs and moms telling their children to "look tough" for their self-portrait; a guy, possibly of the abandoned chaperone variety, intensely attempting to rendering the scene as a 360-degree panorama with a non-iPhone handcomputer; eager chanting, holding up inspirational hand written signs, failing to start The Wave; succeeding in getting the attention of Key Arena TV by twerking (early-adolescent boy), making Grumpy Cat faces (teen girl), or sporting thrift store treasures (numerous).
The show opens with fireworks, flashing lights, and a song inspired by a contentious Malcolm Gladwell essay.
The stage set is fascinating in and of itself, but also in considering the image of the pacific northwest that it projected as the duo took the show on a continent-hopping tour: there are the requisite (giant, fake) tree trunks, greenery, and projected forest scenes as backdrop. A sitcom-style living room scene is rolled to the middle of the stage, though I don't recall whether any of the many performers (dance teams, string section, guest vocalists, horn players) ever availed themselves of the couch. A young taxidermized bear, the provenance of which was never explained, guards Ryan Lewis's flag-draped production platform at the back of the stage.
Macklemore loves to talk and the crowd will go wild for anything that he says. Case in point, have so many teenagers ever cheered so loudly and fervently for the concept of "moderation" w/r/t the devil weed and alcohol as they do when Macklemore (in the first of many chatty interludes) recounts the story of how substances clouded his creative output, until a stint in rehab and a newfound partnership with Ryan Lewis re-ignited his career? He is, however, completely cool with substance use, as long as it works for you.
In general, there is so much talking, which is maybe de rigueur for giant hip hop productions? Even as a self-identified Bright Eyes fan who enjoys the occasional Oberst rant, I feel like at a rock show, a performer can get away with maybe 30 seconds of sociopolitical chatter before the audience starts to cringe and/or groan. Here, though, the mix of monologues (and skits!) to music felt close to 1:2 and no one showed any indication of that being an unwelcome ratio.
Re, the above, tens of thousands of people going wild during the Civil Rights celebration monologue that introduces multi-valent R-74 supporting / radio conquering / Grammy nominated "Same Love" (as well as the epilogue celebrating Mary Lambert's star-making hook) feels some kind of incongruously significant.
What I initially imagined to be an inspirational tale about how iPhone ubiquity finally killed improvisational freestyling and beatboxing (via near-instantaneous posting of embarrassing #fails to YouTube) nevertheless turned into an occasion for encouraging citizens to be less judgmental though an onstage improv session that featured looped beatboxing, a band jam session, rhymes about IHOP, and a guest appearance from opener Talib Kweli.
Near the end of the show, Macklemore recounted some kind of fever dream involving him regularly dining with a hot-dog-cooking Mariah Carey, stoned-out-of-his-mind Snoop Dog/Lion, zen-master quarterback Russell Wilson, and super sonic Gary Payton during the rappers regularly discuss which crowds are the craziest. Halfway through I wonder, "is it us? are we the craziest crowd ever?" and as the story progresses I'm pretty sure that it must be us, right?! We, the good people of Seattle, Washington, right here in Key Arena, are going to be the goddamn craziest crowd this international hip hop superstar has ever encountered! And then I enthusiastically ask the dude next to me who seems to have brought his even younger brother along with him if he also thinks that it's going to be us. I have crappy foam stuck in my ears and can't tell whether he hears me but I'm pretty sure that he agrees, and there we all are: the wildest and most appreciative crowd in the history of crowds creating an occasion that will surely humble the great and powerful Snoop Lion the next time he and Macklemore meet on the astral plane.
I can't even remember what song made us so crazy, but it must have been "Can't Hold Us" since my next scribbled note is about whether Ray Dalton was wearing some really incredible genie shoes during his guest vocals.
Re: all of the spectacle. Stunningly curated backing visuals include inspirational mountain, thrilling bear fights, city scenes, or nostalgic baseball footage and are occasionally overlaid with lyrics. Sustainably harvested kicks descend from the rafters in the shape of a product-placed giant "M" for "Wing$". Costume changes include the ever-popular "Mexican Gunfighter" and "Hair Metal Rocker" from the Red Light Halloween Collection and "Irish Guy wearing a Custom Mackle Jackson" jersey, presumably from the Seahawks celebrity relations department. Huge plumes of fire erupt with heat that can be felt in the seats, sometimes in close physical and temporal proximity to streamer explosions. Videos, sometimes comedic, play on the monitors. The last of which presents a myth about the well-endowed somehow British son of presumably time-traveling Samuel L. Jackson and Lady Gaga and culminating with our hero rising from the stage surrounded by feather-fanning dancers and speaking in a mid-'90s Madonna impersonation of David Bowie singing "And We Danced".
The encore session featured a musical tribute to Irish-American history, complete with the Irish tricolour represented in both giant waving form and confetti color scheme, fiddle jams, a few lyrical stereotypes, and a fair bit of walking all over the fans (like Phoenix before him, Macklemore strolls above the crowd without the assistance of a Flaming Lipsesque hamster ball).
By the time the closing speech—which may have included pieces of a first draft re-imagining of Kaufman & Hart's "You Can't Take it Wit Ya" and definitely contained both profuse thanks and revelations of youthful software piracy—draws to a close, we are well past curfew. But what kind of monster would force everyone to go home before UW Alumni Magazine cover boy Ryan Lewis had his chance to crowd surf? Not Macklemore! Fines be damned, the brave soul who shouted "eff the system" was right: we all needed to hear "Can't Hold Us" one more time, all together before heading back out into that frosty evening, where someone with only twenty dollars in her pocket wouldn't even need to pop any tags to get a dis/counterfeited tour t-shirt on the sidewalk.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis perform again on Wednesday and Thursday night at Key Arena. Sir Mix-A-Lot joins as Wednesday's special guest. Both nights are sold out.