Macklemore performs Saturday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills. (Adam Graham/ / Detroit News)
One year ago this month, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis played Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit. The sold-out show was a triumph at the time, showing how far the independent duo had come since releasing their acclaimed album “The Heist” just a few months prior.
What a difference a year makes. Saturday night, the pair played the Palace of Auburn Hills, a victory lap on a year that has seen them land two No. 1 hits, sell more than 13 million singles and top more than 1 million sales of “The Heist.” To their credit, the energy in the Palace was just as high as it was that night at Saint Andrew’s: The stage and the production grew, but Macklemore’s skills as a performer weren’t dwarfed by the venue. He stepped up, and proved he could hang with the big boys.
But as tends to be the case with performers who get big off of one album, the show was thin on material. Over 100 minutes, Macklemore and his crew — producer Ryan Lewis, his band (a violinist, a cellist and a trombonist) and a handful of dancers — worked through just 14 songs, one of which (the smash “Can’t Hold Us”) was performed twice.
Macklemore padded the show by talking at length between each song, mixing goofy stories with self empowerment speeches and social statements. Again, to his credit, it worked: He was part ringleader (he even came out wearing a circus coat), part party host and part politician, and he used all those roles to whip up the young crowd of more than 6,000 fans.
After opening with “Ten Thousand Hours,” the pair didn’t shy away from the big songs, hitting on the massive “Thrift Shop” four songs into the set and playing “Same Love” – featuring an assist from vocalist Mary Lambert, who sings on the studio version of the song – soon after. Big flames erupted and confetti shot into the crowd during “Thrift Shop,” while Macklemore donned a flannel shirt over the Greg Monroe Pistons jersey he was wearing.
Macklemore is an animated performer, outstretching his arms, thrusting his body around his words and endlessly bouncing in place. He’s also not afraid to make fun of himself; at different points in the show he wore a mariachi costume and a glam rocker outfit, complete with a cape, sunglasses and an ’80s wig. His willingness to play with his image is interesting for an artist in hip-hop, a genre that is built on images of perfection and infallibility. But times are changing, and Macklemore is clearly having fun.
Coming off a performance at New Orleans’ Voodoo Festival the night before, where he said he played to rows and rows of fans folding their arms and waiting for headliner Pearl Jam to come on, he said he was happy to be in front of his own fans again, and it showed.
He had plenty of rabbits in his hat, dropping balloons from the ceiling, shooting smoke and fire into the air, and walking out into the crowd while fans held him up. The gimmicks were more reminiscent of a rock concert than a rap show, but Macklemore is a unifier; he’s looking to break down walls, not build them up. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been listening for two days or two years,” he told the crowd at one point. “The fact that you’re here tonight is what matters.”
Lewis, who in past shows has spent plenty of time at the front of the stage, mostly hung back behind his DJ and percussion equipment. The two performers are billed equally but Macklemore more than carries the show; he’s a skilled performer and storyteller (even if those stories – and especially his band intros – were on the longwinded side Saturday night).
When “Thrift Shop” got gigantic, spending six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, it seemed as though Macklemore and Ryan Lewis might have been headed for one hit wonder status. But they slayed that dragon by landing two more big hits, and now they're here to stay. Saturday at the Palace, they proved they can put on a big show. Once their material matches their show, the ceiling really won’t be able to hold them.