Review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at Theater at Madison Square Garden

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Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

The hits Macklemore rapped Wednesday functioned as much as confessionals as songs.

They made their name with low-budget videos, homemade recordings and a song about trolling for bargains in thrift stores.

But the latest tour by the hit hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis boasts a full horn section, two string players, three dancers and flashy big-screen pyrotechnics. It also arrives with enough clout to fill three nights in a row at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, beginning Wednesday.

The 29-year-old front man Macklemore presented his life as both cautionary tale and pep talk.

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

The 29-year-old front man Macklemore presented his life as both cautionary tale and pep talk.

If the duo desired, they could have packed a single show at the Garden’s big room (capacity 18,000). But their decision to keep things close in this (relatively) cozier space says a lot about their commitment to intimacy.

The show emphasized that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (pictured) aren't interested in just recycling rap clichés.

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

The show emphasized that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (pictured) aren’t interested in just recycling rap clichés.

The hits Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty) rapped on Wednesday — while his DJ Lewis led the live band — functioned as much as confessionals as songs. By turns, the 29-year-old front man presented his life as both cautionary tale and pep talk.

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The duo performed the hit that first made them a YouTube sensation, the jazz-tinged 'Thrift Shop.'

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

The duo performed the hit that first made them a YouTube sensation, the jazz-tinged ‘Thrift Shop.’

Macklemore opened the show in the latter mode. In the elegant “Ten Thousand Hours,” he rapped about just how handsomely hard work has paid off for him. The emcee borrowed the title phrase from Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller “Outliers,” hardly a common hip-hop name-drop.

As this show re-emphasized, Macklemore and Lewis aren’t interested in recycling rap clichés. The hilarious hit that first made them a YouTube sensation, the jazz-tinged “Thrift Shop,” gleefully inverts hip-hop’s love of bling. On Wednesday, the star showed his genuine love of cheap clothing by wheeling out racks of trashy threads and picking out a ratty faux fur for himself.

The kitschy look of the stage enhanced Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' wittier side.

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

The kitschy look of the stage enhanced Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ wittier side.

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Likewise, the stage design had a consciously musty aura, featuring faux foliage that looked like something from a lost lodge from the ’70s.

DJ Ryan Lewis led the live band at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

Brian Killian/WireImage

DJ Ryan Lewis led the live band at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

The kitschy look enhanced the duo’s wittier side. Much of the music from their smash CD, “The Heist,” has a playful and funky ease. But it can also go for the high-minded. In “Other Side,” Macklemore recounts his time addicted to drugs and alcohol. This inspired a long poetic speech about excess and temptation.

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The music took influence from rock, jazz, ’90s West Coast rap and funk.

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

The music took influence from rock, jazz, ’90s West Coast rap and funk.

The group has also enjoyed a serious-minded hit with “Same Love,” which argues eloquently for the marriage equality law. The guest singer of the irresistible hook, Mary Lambert, showed up to croon the chorus. Again, Macklemore, who is straight, didn’t just let his rap do the talking. He spelled out his support for gay rights at length.

Given rap’s casual homophobia, the underscoring had a compensatory edge. Despite its earnest intent, the show hardly felt heavy overall. Its music lightened things further with its relentless hooks, taking influence from rock, jazz, ’90s West Coast rap and funk. The duo blended them all into a pop mix that, like this show, had quirkiness and sincerity to spare.

Despite its earnest intent, the show at the Theater at Madison Garden hardly felt heavy overall.

Julia Xanthos/New York Daily News

Despite its earnest intent, the show at the Theater at Madison Garden hardly felt heavy overall.

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jfarber@nydailynews.com


Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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