Thursday night marked the return of Seattle’s hipster-hop pioneers Mad Rad to Neumo’s, the venue that … well, you know the story. The free show, also featuring local favorite Macklemore on the bill, had people lining the 10th Avenue sidewalk well before the 8 p.m. doors-open time.
When Mad Rad took the stage, the foursome stormed right into things with their club-bangin’ theme song “Superdope!” and the Capitol Hill scenester anthem “Party Mountain,” With P Smoov’s electro-laced beats sounding extra huge on the house system. The crew looked comfortable and in their element performing on their home turf again, and the crowd packed with friends, fans and admirers seemed happy to have them back in the hood. The bass thumped, the synths and vocoders buzzed and the crowd drank up and danced their asses off. Mad Rad unveiled a few new cuts and Rik Rude even joined them onstage for “covers” of Fresh Espresso cuts “Lazerbeams” and “Gettin Money.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the antics were kept to a minimum by Mad Rad standards. No climbing of audio equipment (just a ladder brought up on stage), no crowd surfing, not even a choreographed dance interlude. Buffalo Madonna still did his trademark energetic spazzouts, but the craziest act of the night came from the upstairs balcony when a fan (presumably a friend of Mad Rad) made it rain with actual $1 bills. No joke. After the press this show received and the implications it had, I was expecting much more in this department. Maybe Mad Rad was trying to be on their best behavior to ensure future Capitol Hill club bookings?
The crowd packed onto the main floor in anticipation for Macklemore’s set prior to Mad Rad’s headlining performance. A guitarist, violinist and trumpet player joined him onstage during the sound check, which made it evident this was going to be good. Tearing through mostly new material from his Vs. EP and The Unplanned Mixtape, Macklemore was joined onstage by a host of guest artists. Xperience spit his verse on the ’80s-baby anthem “Crew Cuts,” Buffalo Madonna, Thomas Grey and Pearl Dragon (from Champagne Champagne) added extra fervor to the anthemic “Kings,” and Chris Mansfield (aka Fences) played guitar during a few songs – most notably “Otherside.” I couldn’t help but think of the song’s message about addiction and how both Mansfield and Macklemore have overcome their own addiction problems.
But it wasn’t just the guest appearances, live instrumentation or backup dancers that made the show. Macklemore’s ability to spit serious, relevant material like “Otherside” one moment and don a fur coat, wig and fake accent for “And We Danced” the next – leaving the crowd hanging onto every lyric all the while – is a talent every rapper dreams of possessing. After performing his new go-to closer, the flag-waving, Beirut-sampling “Irish Celebration,” he triumphantly stagedove and walked off the stage amid chants for an encore.
All in all the show didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations I had and the lack of Mad Rad’s signature over-the-top rowdiness made the show seem a bit, well, tamer than usual. Don’t get me wrong, the crowd ate it up, I still had fun (the amount of fun seemed to increase with each beer … funny how that works with this kind of music) and may or may not have danced with a crazed female fan, but maybe Mad Rad’s shtick is starting to tire a bit? Everyone knows these guys are creative – between the four of them you have rappers, producers, DJs, and visual artists, P Smoov is one of the best local hip-hop producers in the game and Buffalo Madonna goes balls-out during every show he performs – so it will be interesting to see what they do next. With the Seattle hip-hop scene bubbling at an all-time high, there are plenty of other acts pushing the metaphorical creative envelope. Now that everyone knows who they are and what they’re about, Mad Rad needs to take it to the next level like many of their fans and followers believe they can.