Macklemore and Ryan Lewis review – broiling agitprop and goofball braggadocio

Hydro, Glasgow
Worthy political numbers hold centre-stage, but a sprint of escalating goofiness finally takes this two-hour set over the top

Macklemore – AKA Seattle rapper Ben Haggerty – wants to celebrate and skewer high-rolling hedonism while raising social awareness. It’s a tricky balance. At this uneven show, there’s a brisk trade in T-shirts that solemnly declare: “Health Care Is a Human Right.” Equally, there’s a doolally reaction from 6,000 fans when, after his oven-fresh dad-bod anthem Let’s Eat, Macklemore yells: “Make some noise for food!”

That he can switch between cartoonish braggadocio, thorny flashes of self-doubt and surprisingly intense progressive proselytising without giving fans whiplash is testament to Macklemore’s big-tent charisma. The sumptuous, hook-laden backdrops of his production partner Ryan Lewis also provide valuable cushioning.

The pair took some heat after beating Kendrick Lamar to the best rap album Grammy in 2014, and their militaristic opening salvo Light Tunnels – taken from their new album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – agonises over that triumph. It’s a forensic, fevered reconstruction that, in the context of this mega-gig, also usefully functions as a recap of their rapid ascent, a sort of “previously on Macklemore”.

Watch the video for Thrift Shop

They throw out their sax-powered global hit Thrift Shop surprisingly early, with Macklemore donning a plausibly freecyled leopardskin coat that’s part Huggy Bear, part Bet Lynch. Lewis hangs back by some freestanding drums, often obscured by the endless flashmob swirl of dancers and supporting players, including a topless trumpeter in a kilt.

Thanks to a roaming posse of brass players, new song Kevin floats on a colliery-band swell at odds with its caustic tale of a young man lost to prescription drugs. White Privilege II is broiling, mutating agitprop, staged with strobes that mimic lightning and rolling thunder. That Macklemore’s most politicised songs make up the centrepiece of this near two-hour performance is admirable. But it’s the final sprint of escalating goofiness – including the arrival of a mulleted superhero and a booming Idris Elba vocal cameo on Dance Off – that belatedly pushes it over the top.

• At Newcastle Arena, 22 April. Box office: 0844 493 6666. Then touring until 27 April.

Ben Haggerty in Glasgow on 13 April.
Ben Haggerty in Glasgow on 13 April. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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