Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Walked the Tightrope of Silly and Serious

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Walked the Tightrope of Silly and SeriousEXPAND
Photos by Marco Torres

An Evening With Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Revention Music Center
January 16, 2016

When it comes time to put together a set list, Macklemore has to walk an interesting tightrope. On one hand, he’s a dude who has a lot of things to say about heavy issues like discrimination and drug abuse and consumerism, messages he wants to get out while he has a platform. On the the other hand, some of his best-known songs are about thrift shopping and mopeds. I do not envy his task.

That said, he and Ryan Lewis do a solid job balancing those two sides of their creative partnership live. The fun songs are suitably fun, “Downtown” in particular shining bright because Foxy Shazam front man Eric Nally is currently on the road with the duo and kills his parts, and the serious songs stick the landing about as well you can expect.

It’s still a weird show, beyond just the lyrical content considerations. Answer the following question honestly: how many Macklemore songs can you name that feature a guest vocalist where Macklemore isn’t the weakest part of the song? Of the ones he’s playing live the only one that might be true for is “Growing Up,” and that’s only because Ed Sheeran’s appearance on that song just seems kind of silly; when I think of “guitar-playing white dudes who I want to hear sing about babies” he’s not really in my Top 10, no matter how talented he is.

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And thus we have a problem that is not unusual in the landscape of modern pop music concerts: the star feeling less star-like because of his or her reliance on collaborators. While “Same Love” is probably the most obvious example, I actually think “Kevin” does a much better job of displaying the problem Macklemore faces: while his verses are fine, they’re also really easy to forget when someone as talented as Leon Bridges shows up to lend the song a hand.

I think that Macklemore can best be explained by a moment that happened at this particular performance. Before “Same Love,” he talked about being in Houston for a festival (FPSF) and having the Mayor (Annise Parker) come out onstage. I imagine a lot of people who went to FPSF two years ago remember this, and remember it fondly. Macklemore seems to as well, even if he couldn’t remember the name of the festival and had to ask if we had a new mayor since.

But here’s the thing: after the setup, he talked about how cool it was thought Houston elected a woman who is a lesbian to be mayor of our city, and about how great it was that we as a city weren’t afraid to let love win.

And that’s when I wrote in my, “Oh God, no one tell Macklemore about HERO.”

While I may not have been blown away by their performance, my main takeaways from Saturday night were a) Ryan Lewis is seriously underrated as a producer; and b) Macklemore is a guy who means well, and even when he stumbles he’s still a guy I kind of want to root for.

I still have no idea why this tour happened — he’s dropping a new album next month but this show really did feel like a super-late extension of The Heist touring cycle — but I’ll be watching with interest to see what happens next. Maybe the duo can catch lightning in a bottle again. That’ll they try, I have no doubt.

Personal Bias: “Downtown” was on my Pazz and Jop ballot.

The Crowd: Skewed older than I would have guessed if you told me to describe the average Macklemore & Ryan Lewis fan. I can see them doing well on a dad-rap circuit.

Random Notebook Dump: I actually call the “being the weakest part of a track” thing the Ariana Grande Problem, which would be called the Iggy Azalea Problem, except Iggy is slightly better on the track they share. 

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