Concert review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis exude positive energy in Gwinnett

Robb D. Cohen/

Macklemore might be one of the trendy musical targets of 2013 thanks to the viral explosion of “Thrift Shop.” But the lanky Seattle rapper demonstrated every minute that he was on stage at The Arena at Gwinnett Center Friday night that there is much, much more to him beyond the goofiness of a borderline novelty song.

From the moment he rose from under the stage on a hydraulic platform clad in a gold Sgt. Pepper jacket, Macklemore roamed the stage like a restless tiger. He strode up the raised ramps flanking the foliage-covered stage, showered the crowd with a bottle of water and he talked. A lot.

But when the man born Ben Haggerty speaks, he’s like the hip-hop E.F. Hutton: People listen.

Some of his patter was obligatory (“The people of Atlanta know how to throw a ****ing party,” he shouted to the half-empty arena – though to be fair, the rapt crowd made up in noise what it lacked in size).

But even when he segued out of the spongy beat of “Life Is Cinema” with its delectable sample of The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” and into a forced-sounding bit about Atlantans having a certain style (a long fur coat from an audience member was tossed up to Macklemore for added visual effect) for the ubiquitous “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore was still entertaining.

Along with his DJ partner and sometimes-percussionist Ryan Lewis, who reigned from a perch above the stage, Macklemore was backed by a band that usually included trumpets and trombones and sometimes cello and violin.

The brass players were particularly effective on the signature woozy bleats of “Thrift Shop” (which also featured molasses-voiced Wanz) and when adding a melancholy tone to “Same Love” (“It’s a record that I think is much bigger than myself and Ryan,” Macklemore said in a recent interview with the AJC).

But for all of the accoutrements Macklemore and Lewis brought to the 90-minute show – pyro, spurts of gold confetti during “Thrift Shop,” gobs of streamers during “Can’t Hold Us” – many highlights were the quietest moments.

Macklemore, who sported an Al Horford Hawks tank top the rest of the show, spoke passionately about his desire to be a rapper since he was 13, a story that dovetailed into a cautionary tale about the addictions he struggled with for years (he’s been sober since 2008).

He paired his life story with a stark, a capella version of “Otherside,” the lyrical unfurling of his personal crash that ends on a note of optimism, followed by “Starting Over,” which he performed sitting on a stool in front of a living room set.

The meaningful aspects of Macklemore’s lyrics were again on display as he worked his way into “Same Love.”

“Finally, we are starting to let go of the fear and the hatred that has been passed on from previous generations,” he said, and then invited a female couple on stage for a sweet, impromptu (well, for one of them) proposal that resulted in their engagement.

Mary Lambert was on hand to sing the poignant song’s refrain, while the audience participated heartily on the “love is patient, love is kind” chorus.

Even when Macklemore returned to a party vibe with a fun freestyle rap over beats he created on the spot with a looping pedal and bounded through the rubbery groove of “Can’t Hold Us” and the inspirational “Wing$,” the energy he exuded was purely positive.

Talk about a welcome anomaly in rap.

Openers Big K.R.I.T. and Talib Kweli offered a different vibe – and a much louder approach – than Macklemore and Lewis.

Mississippi’s Big K.R.I.T. brashly blew through “Rotation” and “How You Luv That” – the chest-rattling bass from his backing DJ could have been turned down a notch or 10 – while Brooklyn’s renowned Kweli upped the intensity with a set that included “Palookas” and his conga-dusted song with Miguel, “Come Here.”

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