Macklemore & Ryan Lewis storm the USF Sun Dome, Tampa

A review of the Sat., Nov. 23 concert with Talib Kweli and Big KRIT

click to enlarge Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Sat., Nov. 23, USF Sun Dome, Tampa. - Tracy May
Tracy May
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Sat., Nov. 23, USF Sun Dome, Tampa.

You don’t realize how big of a presence an artist like Macklemore has until you get kicked out of your seat by a dozen grade-schoolers tricked out in thrift shop wear. [Words by Andrew, photos by Tracy.]

It seemed like a good idea — sneak up to the empty row of seats below me to get a better view right before Macklemore and his producer/partner Ryan Lewis were due to hit the stage. That was until a pint-sized, feather-boa’d brunette and her crew promptly notified me, "um, these are our seats." The parents, clutching tickets, extra sweaters, and a look of general unease about the whole thing, agreed — insistently.

The odd hilarity of it wasn’t beyond me, but neither was the bigger picture. When packs of elementary-age kids are coming to your concert, donned in the subject matter of your hit single, you’ve probably made it, and without major label backing at that.

Macklemore’s show on Saturday at the USF Sun Dome was a well-deserved exercise in celebration. Playing to a modestly packed venue, Macklemore rejoiced with a show that was never dull, safely irreverent, and dare I say kind of uplifting.

Entering the stage in a gold sequined jacket to the The Heist opener “Ten Thousand Hours,” Mack was joined his co-hort Ryan Lewis on the turntables and a random assortment of instrumentalists including, but not limited to — a wild, stage running trumpeter, a trombone player, one cellist, a violinist and a rotating assortment of backup dancers. Most of them were likely for show, though it's hard to fault a dude for bringing something original to a genre well regarded for its more traditional way of doing things, especially live.

And he keeps it up throughout. While most of the banter between songs was probably canned (a diatribe on equality before “Same Love”? No way!), Macklemore was present and jovial and easy to like as a showman. He’s also sober, and like most ex-addicts, he'll tell you all about it ad nauseum, though he parlays the anti-drug dialogue into an overarching message of not letting substances get in the way of your inner creativity. Surely those parents we mentioned earlier were lapping all this up amid the minor freak outs that came after every 'FUCK' was uttered from the stage?

Even as the spotlight shines harder on this guy every day, he still brought Wanz (of ubiquitous “IM GONNA POP SOME TAGS” deep voiced-fame) and Mary Lambert on tour to guest perform on their respective songs, “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love,” in addition to busting out the expected singles “Can’t Hold Us,” “White Walls” and “Wing$.”

Not to mention the fact that he also invited conscious rap royalty, Talib Kweli, and rising Mississippi act Big KRIT to fill the opening slots for him. While it seemed like KRIT had seen better nights and Talib couldn’t get the crowd as hyped as he wanted, each are unique beacons of talent in hip hop today and far off the map (both in sound and income) from the sort of pop-mainstream acts a major label would “encourage” Macklemore to take on tour with him instead.

Is Macklemore's subject matter a little base? Yeah. He’s not necessarily offering us any riveting insight on the human condition. Is he pandering to an easily-swayed crowd of largely white-skinned 18-to-24-year-olds with tons of disposable income? Probably. Does his hit single(s) deserve to be buried in a modern musical graveyard right alongside Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”? Definitely — but he’s trying, and clearly getting something more substantial than the income or notoriety out of the whole shebang, so good for him. I can’t knock that hustle, even if I want to.

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