Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Talib Kweli Reliant Arena November 27, 2013
Standing in the shadow of a diminishing Astrodome, the rarely used Reliant Arena played host to more than 5,000 Houstonians for a showcase of some of today's biggest hip-hop talent Wednesday, when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis returned to town for the first time since their highly lauded performance at Free Press Summer Fest earlier in the year.
While this show was lacking the JJ Watt and Mayor Parker guest spots of their previous performance -- I'm guessing Watt was milling around behind the scenes, as he was name-dropped onstage numerous times -- the duo still gave a high-energy set, and hardly seem to be slowing down. Given a chance to expand that set a bit more than at the host of festivals they've been playing all year, the Seattle duo used their first major arena gig in Houston to show just how far they've come in such a short period of time.
It was an odd trio of acts set to perform on what's being called "The Heist" tour, which took its name from their platinum-selling independently released 2012 debut LP. Joining the duo on the road are free-thinking Brooklyn hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and up-and-coming Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. While the three artists didn't really seem to mesh on paper, I think the event came off quite well, melding the three very different fanbases together for a quality night of music.
Unfortunately I didn't catch Big K.R.I.T., but the room seemed to be buzzing at the beginning of Kweli's set, so I'm sure he did a good job of hyping up the kiddies who got there early to secure their front-row spots. Talib Kweli is and will always be one of the best MCs in the game, with hits for days that were apparent during his short but sweet set. "The Blast" was introduced by a quick cover of Mos Def's "Umi Says," propelling his fans in the audience to hope for a one-off Black Star reunion right there in front of them. Sadly Yasiin Bey (what Mos Def calls himself these days) didn't show up, but at least Kweli could celebrate his part-time partner in crime with the tune.
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It's certainly been quite the year for both Macklemore and his prized beatmaker Lewis. To call them an overnight success is an understatement, and ever since they entered people's ear sockets with the still-charming "Thrift Shop" barely a year ago, they've literally been everywhere.
They've performed all across the world, won major award after major award, and had the chance to spread their music and message on a much grander scale than they assuredly ever thought they'd be able to. They weren't that one-trick pony many at first mistook them to be, and now have stepped so far out of the shadows that you're going to need your sunglasses the next time they're around.
Granted, it was a bit misleading to feed the world the hooky "Thrift Shop" as their first single. Although you could argue that it was the root to their success, it's the only song that sounds anything remotely close to that on the album, or touches on similarly lighthearted material. Their next two singles, the instant chart-toppers "Can't Hold Us" and "Same Love," all of a sudden found them promoting a much stronger and more serious message about unbiased equality.
It's a far cry from the two of them goofing off at a Goodwill, but everyone seemed to eat the new direction up, eventually leading them to where they are today: selling 5,000-plus tickets at an odd venue in the south side of Houston on the eve of a major holiday. If it was a Friday in the summer, the place would've been doubly packed; not bad for some guys that were playing to rooms of 200 less than two years ago.
The performance itself was good. I think their shtick has mostly worn off on me, but I'm also under the unfortunate circumstance of having seen the exact same show three times in the past six months. Still though, when they told me to wave my hands, I waved my hands, and you can rest assured that I was singing along with everyone else during the hits.
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Macklemore is a born entertainer who effortlessly works his way around the stage like he'd been doing it his whole life, and has found a perfect relationship in his trusted musical director Lewis. They've put together an impressive stage show, bringing together a whole cavalcade of musicians, guest vocalists and backup dancers along for the ride. Even opener Kweli joined in on the fun late into the show for a spirited back-and-forth freestyle with Macklemore.
The only thing that gets me from time to time is the cheese factor that comes along with their music. For some reason, during the last few songs of the set, they started throwing out cheddar to the crowd left and right. Not that processed shit, but the sharpest Wisconsin you can buy.
Macklemore kept disappearing side stage, only to return in costume -- one time in western wear during "White Walls," and then again to open the encore as an English clubber, cheap fake accent and all, for "And We Danced." That was a whole weird thing altogether, and while I thought it might have been a one-time occurrence for Halloween when I saw it at Voodoo a few weeks ago, it happened again last night which only added to my bewilderment.
It's just way too over-the-top and a bit on the ridiculous side, so far into left field that even Barry Bonds couldn't handle it. Even during his steroid years. The first 12 or 13 songs were incredible, but then it just seemed like they ran out of material so they had to play those forgettable deeper album cuts to fill their allotted time.
If you are going to play those, do it first to get them out of the way, and save the end of the performance for the hits that you ever-so nonchalantly breezed through mid-set. And also, get rid of that stupid costume hogwash. It might be cute to your younger fans, but you are losing a lot of credibility by doing said things. If you're going to call yourself a hip-hop act, and rub shoulders with other high-caliber names in the genre, than you need to stop with that substandard gimmicky bullshit.
I don't want it to sound like they're bad, because they aren't. Actually, far from it. That was evident from start to finish during this pre-Thanksgiving showcase. They've got a good thing going, and should continue to build on the many successes this past year has afforded them. With a new album supposedly in the works, all they need is that one big comeback hit sometime down the road and they should find themselves firmly planted into our musical framework for many years to come.
Personal Bias: Macklemore asked the audience late into the set if anyone had been listening to them before "Thrift Shop" dropped, and even though the real ratio was probably closer to one out of every 500 people there, most of the crowd screamed as if they had been. I didn't scream, because I, just like the room full of liars I was surrounded by, was first introduced to the duo with the arrival of that track. It was my jam for a little while, which allowed me to explore the rest of the record. I didn't necessarily love The Heist, but there was enough on there to keep my interest sparked. They nail it live, though, which is the tried and true test of any good band.
The Crowd: I tweeted early in the evening "The crowd here is literally everybody." From toddlers to elderly folk, every race, creed and kind. It's one of the many things that makes this city so interesting and unique. It also says a whole lot about the act we were all there to see.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I don't know if this sounds bad or not, but Vanilla Ice was on top at one point too."
Random Notebook Dump: They were selling $50 sweatshirts and $30 tank-tops. Isn't that exactly what the song "Thrift Shop" is poking fun at? "50 dollars for a T-shirt, that's just some ignorant bitch shit." That's the line, right? Someone seems to be getting a little too big for their (assuredly non-consignment-shop) britches. I'm looking at you, Mr. Macklemore.
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