The venerable Bass Concert Hall has hosted touring musicals, classical ensembles and indie rock darlings. It has now also featured a man wearing a gold cape and a Goblin King wig humping the stage.
For one oft-cheesy, always heartfelt Wednesday evening, the venue welcomed Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and their decidedly uncool brand of cool. As is custom for a Live Music Capital tour stop, the rapper (real name Ben Haggerty), backed by mostly silent beat-smith Lewis, kicked the evening off by recounting early trips to Austin for South By Southwest (“We didn’t have any shows”). This show, however, was sold out.
The room packed a very young, very white crowd into a space ill-suited for a midweek turn-up. Water flung from plastic bottles was unnerving, and a couple of commands to jump just seemed to be a bad idea considering the tight rows. But from the first moment Macklemore appeared onstage for “Ten Thousand Hours,” his back to the audience, every stimulus was still reason for thrown hands and loosed screams, as space allowed.
With a metronome’s precision, Macklemore is able to alternate between slam-poet vulnerability and absurdist showmanship of indeterminate irony. Breakthrough hit “Thrift Shop” came early in the night, along with prop racks of vintage togs, streamers, bboys and a sense of game routine. Macklemore rapped about the capitalist exploitation of America’s youth through sneakers on “Wings,” which is not your average emcee fodder, and yet he still managed to sell stone-faced gravity.
(There’s also a tangle of racial politics entwining songs like “Wings,” as well as the rapper’s career as a whole, that could fill a million thinkpieces. Could, and has. Go go Google.)
That balance of goofy hedonism and the kind of honesty that makes your want to tip your cap brim over your eyes moved the evening along reliably. The aforementioned stage-humping emerged from the bonkers “And We Danced,” which was dedicated to David Bowie, because it’s been that kind of week. The Sugarhill-Gang-meets-Broadway spectacle of “Downtown” featured Bruno Mars-esque choreography and Foxy Shazam singer Eric Nally, a wispy, mustachioed force of vocal and noodle-limbed nature who stole the show right out from under the headliners.
And on the side of extreme sincerity, the well-it’s-hard-to-argue-that-it-didn’t-do-a-lot-of-good “Same Love” played to a very receptive crowd; the rapper’s dedication of the song to his daughter’s future particularly stirred up the cheers. “Growing Up (Sloane’s Song),” actually written for Macklemore’s daughter, best showcased the night’s penchant for being both hugely uplifting and accessible. (“I’m still tryna figure out who I am/I don’t wanna mess this up or do this wrong.”)
Sometime after Macklemore ran across the stage with an Irish flag as confetti rained on the audience, a runaway, wonky bass beat took the thunder out of closing number “Can’t Hold Us.” That song, with its added element of chaos, seemed a symbol of the night even if it was not a sonic treat: raucous, nimble, flamboyant and, yes, completely committed in every way.