By Ruben Gzirian
I finally get it. I finally get why people not only like Macklemore, but seriously adore him. I finally get why his show at Fillmore Silver Spring was sold out, as are the next eight shows on his Gemini Tour. And, most importantly, I finally get why I’ve been doubting this man, a man who readily and proudly represents my hometown of Seattle at every opportunity as if to drive the point home that he’s different. Macklemore isn’t a rapper in the traditional sense, and the people that packed the Fillmore to see him perform were more than happy to accept that fact. What Macklemore is is a performer, an entertainer, a master of the stage, and a keen reader of his crowd. To put it bluntly, Macklemore knows exactly who is even if you don’t. And I don’t think he’d have it any other way.
Walking into the concert, I was struck by two things immediately: (1) how young the crowd was, and (2) how un-hip hop the crowd was. In the first minute of walking into the Fillmore, I saw a guy wearing a Dropkick Murphys t-shirt sauced out of his mind while 10 steps away a father with his daughter were waiting patiently for Macklemore to come out. I should note that both father and daughter were swagged out in Macklemore tour merch, so that dad deserves some sort of award. At one point, I asked my cousin what the average age of the crowd was. His response “14.5 years old” was probably not that far off. Not only was the crowd seemingly very young, but it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a concert for a hip-hop artist. It’s hard to explain exactly what was “missing” but I had the weird sense that you could have told me AWOLNATION was performing instead of Macklemore and I wouldn’t have doubted you for a second.
A few minutes before Macklemore bounced out on stage, everything started to make sense as I continued to look up at the upper terraces of the Fillmore. A fluid mix of parents, young teens, and older 20-somethings all embodied Macklemore’s catalogue appeal. Macklemore’s current album, Gemini, is his first solo album in 12 years, and his first without Ryan Lewis since 2006. I would wager to say that most people in the crowd really only became Macklemore fans during the Ryan Lewis-era, where hits like “Can’t Hold Us,” “Thrift Shop,” and “Same Love” made the duo a force to be reckoned with. Now on his own, Macklemore is moving into a decidedly more hip-hop orientated soundscape, and his wide spectrum of fans—those that came to hear Gemini Macklemore and those that came to hear Thrift Shop Macklemore—were all there together ready to support their man.
Macklemore’s wide appeal was immediately evident from the moment he came out to his pseudo-rap/stadium chant song “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight.” Full of energy, by-the-book rock cues, and a slick safe flow devoid of any thought-provoking lyricism, the song was a perfect choice to start the show. To say the crowd was enthralled would be belittling; Macklemore literally went from 0-100 (shoutout Drake) and his crowd followed him every step. I even saw a dad bobbing his head. While his status as a performer are indisputable—songs like “Firebreather” and “Marmalade” took on characters of their own, letting Macklemore orchestrate the crowd’s energy from the stage as if some sort of denim-wearing maestro—it was his interaction with the crowd in-between those songs that really stood out. Macklemore exuded comedic charm, interlacing cute stories about his young daughter with jokes about how she demanded that he perform certain songs in her absence. All of it spoke to the crowd in a way I wasn’t expecting, and built excitement for the next song better than any DJ or hype man ever could.
I left the show impressed in a way that surprised me. Macklemore knows his audience, and he also knows that they expect a certain product from him. While some will argue that his split with Ryan Lewis in June 2017 will result in a situation where Macklemore becomes a victim of past success, his performance at Fillmore showed that he is totally aware of this. Macklemore is his own man now, and his confident performance, a performance that had everyone in a sold out Fillmore going crazy, was testament to appeal of his newfound independence.