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Macklemore, Lewis play to adoring Spokane Arena crowd

DJ Ryan Lewis, a graduate of Ferris High School, bounces with the beat behind the DJ console and in front of a slideshow backdrop at the Spokane Arena on Wednesday. Lewis and rapper Macklemore performed for an audience of 8,000. (Jesse Tinsley)
DJ Ryan Lewis, a graduate of Ferris High School, bounces with the beat behind the DJ console and in front of a slideshow backdrop at the Spokane Arena on Wednesday. Lewis and rapper Macklemore performed for an audience of 8,000. (Jesse Tinsley)

I have to be honest: I’ve never really liked Macklemore.

I’ve tried, really. It’s great that he and Ryan Lewis, two young guys from Washington (Lewis is a former Spokane resident), have become so popular, and it’s even greater that they’ve done it without the support of a major record label. That’s a triumph for independent musicians everywhere.

I especially admire Macklemore as a social activist, and that his lyrics condemn the misogyny, homophobia and the glorification of drug culture and mindless consumerism that pervades hip-hop. Lewis, meanwhile, certainly can craft a catchy beat. It’s truly commendable that Macklemore invited kids from Spokane’s Daybreak Youth Services to his concert.

But when I listen to his music, I feel like I’m missing something. I want to like it, if for no other reason than Macklemore seems like a swell guy.

So when I found myself on the ground floor of the Spokane Arena at the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis show Wednesday, I felt like a grumpy old man stuck at a high school party.

That being said, Macklemore and Lewis put on an engaging, high-energy show, punctuated by pyrotechnics, synchronized dancers, brass and strings and lots of confetti. They’re natural live performers, Macklemore especially: He oozes charisma, hopping around the stage in a Shawn Kemp jersey-kilt ensemble, and he knows how to play directly to the audience – the crowd gleefully heeded his commands to initiate “the greatest dance party in Spokane history.”

The set list stuck primarily with songs from the hit album “The Heist,” including the No. 1 singles “Thrift Shop” (Wanz, the guy who booms the “I’m gonna pop some tags” bit, was there) and “Can’t Hold Us” (Ray Dalton, the guy who croons the “like the ceiling can’t hold us” bit, was also there). Also on the set was the Seattle Mariners anthem “My Oh My,” “Wing$,” an ode to Air Jordans, and the ballad “Same Love,” which featured the talented Seattle vocalist Mary Lambert and ended with an Ephrata High School student on the stage, asking her girlfriend out to homecoming.

In between songs, though, Macklemore babbled, and it often sapped the energy out of the room. At one point, he brought out a set that resembled a living room – he wants to create a sense of intimacy, he says to more than 8,000 people – and later proceeded into bizarre stage banter that included an aimless, made-up conversation between himself, Snoop Dogg and Mariah Carey, and an anecdote involving President Barack Obama and a mythical golden trumpet (don’t ask).

But it was during the encore that Macklemore went for broke. For “And We Danced,” a song from a 2009 mixtape, Macklemore transformed into his David Bowie-from-“Labyrinth” alter ego, complete with a silver ’80s glam wig, and spouted non sequiturs in some kind of Eastern European accent (something about riding around naked on a moped). During “Irish Celebration,” a rollicking celebration of Macklemore’s heritage, the audience was enveloped in an explosion of orange, white and green confetti.

And for his grand finale? “Can’t Hold Us.” Again. The second time around, big yellow balloons were dropped from the ceiling, so I guess that counts for something.

I was surrounded on all sides by the adoring masses – it’s clear that the show was a hit with the crowd – but I left the arena feeling like I had witnessed something that was on a frequency I couldn’t hear, like those anti-loitering devices that emanate high-pitched noises to ward off ruffians younger than 30.

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