Back to Rockville

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis combine pop and politics at the Midland

Maklemore performed “Light Tunnels” during the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis show at the Midland on Tuesday.
Maklemore performed “Light Tunnels” during the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis show at the Midland on Tuesday.

During the opening selection of his concert at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland on Tuesday, Macklemore promised to “explain this unruly mess I’ve made.” While he and his musical partner, Ryan Lewis, didn’t entirely fulfill that pledge, they awed a surprisingly meager but remarkably demonstrative audience.

“Light Tunnels,” the first song performed by the duo, recounts Macklemore’s mixed feelings about winning the Grammy Award for best rap album in 2014. The composition reflects Macklemore’s status as one of the most uneasy rappers in the history of hip-hop. Macklemore, the stage name of Seattle native Ben Haggerty, candidly raps about his misgivings regarding fame, financial prosperity and the role that race may have played in his success.

While the concert contained plenty of lighthearted fare, songs about societal issues and emotional turbulence provided the emotional core of the duo’s 95-minute headlining set. In an ambitious interpretation of “White Privilege II,” a ponderous meditation on the response of white Americans to the Black Lives Matter movement, Macklemore posed questions such as “We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?”

He bemoaned the perils of unchecked consumerism in “Wings” and tackled the weighty topics of alcoholism and gentrification during “St. Ides.” A rendition of “Same Love,” the duo’s trailblazing plea for marriage equality, was made even more moving by the live video images of members of the audience embracing as they sang along to the anthem.

The duo’s party songs were also enhanced by a top-drawer production that included an array of props, a handful of dancers and supplemental musicians, and the Bo Jackson jersey Macklemore wore for the first few songs.

The fun wasn’t limited to the campy novelty hit “Thrift Shop.” Interpretations of “Brad Pitt’s Cousin,” a parody of hip-hop boasting, and “Let’s Eat,” a self-deprecating ode to unhealthy food, were hilarious. The agreeably garish presentation that accompanied “Downtown” resembled a lavish Broadway musical.

The eye-popping visuals and satisfying combination of breezy and serious fare made the low turnout particularly confounding. The concert attracted half the audience other hip-hop artists, including G-Eazy, have drawn to the venue in recent months.

The duo may be dismissed by snobbish hip-hop devotees and abandoned by fickle pop fans, but faithful admirers of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis witnessed a spectacular show on Tuesday.

Set list

Light Tunnels, Brad Pitt’s Cousin, Buckshot, Thrift Shop, The Shades, Arrows, Wings, Same Love, Growing Up, White Privilege II, St. Ides, Let’s Eat, White Walls, Can’t Hold Us, And We Danced, Dance Off, Downtown