Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Deliver More Than Beats at Miami Concert

Scott Legato/Getty Images
Macklemore performs at the 2013 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience in New Orleans, LA 

On Sunday night, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won an AMA in the favorite rap/hip-hop album category for "The Heist," their game-changing opus.

But while the AMA’s took place in Los Angeles, the duo’s live broadcast performance of mega-hit “Can’t Hold Us” came from the American Airlines Arena in Miami, where they were playing as part of their first major tour.

“How fucking cool was that??” shouted a visibly excited Macklemore after he finished “Can’t Hold Us,” his three dancers panting behind him.

Very cool indeed, and, surprisingly, very deep as well.

Part dazzling entertainment, part confessional, part musical and part evangelical message (of the Macklemore kind), the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis show is an impressive feat to watch, from the rapper rising on stage on a movable platform—decked in a gold sequined, tassled jacket—to his soul-baring confessions on his rise from drug addict to star, all backed by a producer/DJ—Ryan Lewis, that gives new depth and meaning to the lyrics of the songs.

Given their top 40 status, it’s no surprise that the crowd M&L attracted at AA Arena Sunday night veered from families (lots of hip parents with kids) to a mostly pretty well-heeled young adult crowd that got behind the beats as much as the message.

And there was plenty of message.

In going to American Airlines, Macklemore & Lewis chose an ambitiously large venue that was about half-full (the upper echelons were blacked out). But one could easily imagine this venue filled to capacity within the year, with the duo performing with a backing symphony orchestra as opposed to the strings (violin and cello), trumpet and trombone that still managed to provide depth and soul this time around (guest singer Mary Lambert’s emotional vocals are also a great addition).

M&L’s music is candy-catchy and part of their performance is all about the fun. Tracks like “White Walls”—where Macklemore dons mariachi garb—or “Thrift Shop,” feel like a nuthouse on steroids, with Macklemore jumping back and forth like a madman, the voltage amplified by the wandering trumpet and trombone player, dancers, drummer, pyrotechnics, confetti and Ryan Lewis in an elevated stage in the back, inciting the crowd, throwing beats and also playing the drums.

But there’s much more than fun to these two, from Macklemore’s soliloquy on his journey from drug addiction to rehab to star which dissolves into “Starting Over,” which gains new urgency with hopeful trumpets that quite deliberately herald a new beginning (“If I could be an example to getting sober, I could be an example to starting over”).

The constant juxtaposition is what makes this act a success in radio, in sales and far more impressively, onstage. Macklemore is a good rapper; his lyrics are thoughtful, funny, incisive and non sparing  as in “Jimmy Iovine,” his critique of the music industry business model, or “Wing$,” which critiques a consumerist society. But what elevates the songs are arrangements and beats that run the gamut from exciting to lofty. This duo is a well-oiled machine, something Macklemore goes to pains to explain onstage, when talks about moving back with his parents after his rehab stint (“Trust me it's not dope to be 25 and move back to your parents basement,” he raps) and meeting Lewis.

But the mix of self-deprecating humility with empowering message is also a major take-away for fans. That it all manages to take place within a relentlessly gripping 90-minute show is a bonus.