Passion, confidence and swagger: Macklemore at the Showbox

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These fans waited in the rain for six hours to see Macklemore. Photo by Dave Lichterman


That was the first Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore, spoke before performing a 75-minute set in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,250 people at the Showbox at the Market Sunday night. It was a statement of both bewilderment and accomplishment and it more or less summed up the well-documented rise of Macklemore and his producer/DJ Ryan Lewis to local superstar status.

If you’ve seen Macklemore live previously then chances are you knew exactly what to expect going into his second of three sold-out Showbox shows in eight days (the third is March 5). But to call the show a typical Macklemore show would be selling the evening very, very short.

Sure there was the standard encore of “And We Danced” and  “Irish Celebration,” the former featuring Sir Raven Bowie with his shimmery golden cape and backup dancers called the Macklerettes, and the later latter featuring beach balls and Macklemore waving a massive Irish flag. And yes Macklemore’s hits — “Wings,” “Otherside” and others — got massive responses from the mostly underage crowd. But for every predictable happening there was an equal number of moments spread throughout the night that could really only be summed up in Macklemorian terms with simple “damn.”

The first moment came when I arrived 90 minutes before doors opened and saw a crowd of more than 100 kids lined up outside of the venue waiting to get inside. Some of these kids (and by kids I mean all  were under 21) had been kids sitting in camping chairs, wearing ponchos and bundled up under the cover of umbrellas for more than six hours. Not many local artists have such a dedicated fanbase, let alone such a large all-ages following. Then again not many local artists perform with the confidence, passion and swagger of Macklemore.

Macklemore has become such a force in local music that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn came out late on a Sunday and tweeted a picture to show his fandom (and perhaps win over a few young voters too) and the next day McGinn sent out a tweet congratulating Macklemore. McGinn has long been a supporter of the local music scene but his presence at the show was another one of those moments that made the show stand out from past Macklemore gigs.

It’s been fun watching Macklemore’s career blossom over the past few years with the high points leading up to his Showbox run being sets at Go! Machine and City Arts Fest. Both of those shows were watershed moments for local hip hop, proving that the identity of the local hip-hop community has grown and is something anyone involved with the music scene in Seattle needs to take seriously. Macklemore’s three Showbox shows are watershed moments in his career and seem to be signs of bigger things to come from the freckle-faced Irish MC and his beatmaker buddy Ryan Lewis. His successes, along with the successes of his peers, continue to show Seattle’s hip-hop scene has the potential to become a force to reckon with outside of Seattle and it will be interesting to see how national crowds react to Macklemore on his current U.S. tour.

Of course Macklemore’s success wouldn’t be possible without the help of his friends and that was noted during a few guest appearances throughout the night. Blue Scholars’ Geologic, who had Macklemore join the Scholars on stage during their sold-out Showbox shows last year, guested during one song. Sabzi, the other half of Blue Scholars, DJ’d between sets throughout the night. And “Kings” became the spectacle of the show when it was turned into a black light party complete with facepaint-wearing dancers and guest spots by Champagne Champagne and Buffalo Madonna. It was like a hip-hop rave and definitely the best performance I’ve seen of “Kings.”

At the end of the night when everything was over Macklemore’s set almost literally end the way it started.  As he exited the stage after a triumphant stage dive into the crowd Macklemore flashed smile and had an expression on his face that simply seemed to say “damn.”

Like Macklemore, the show’s three opening acts also showed Seattle has a lot to offer when it comes to hip hop. Hollis Wong-Wear of Canary Sing, blew me away with the power of her voice. Helladope’s set was the only shaky spot of the evening but they connected with the crowd well and ended their set on a high note after they got down to straight-up rapping. Thankfully they eventually ditched  the boy band choreography and the thuggish ski mask portion of their set because even though the crowd ate it up it came across as a bit unprofessional given the caliber of performances put on by the rest of acts on the bill.

Fresh Espresso was, well, Fresh Espresso, meaning as always they were good. Fresh Espresso’s set contained several new tracks including “Sunglasses” and “Green Windows,” songs many in the crowd knew all the words to even though they haven’t been officially released because they’ve become staples of the group’s live show. Glamour, the group’s debut, was the soundtrack to my summer in 2009 and something tells me that when their sophomore record drops it will be my soundtrack to whatever season it is when it’s released.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.