Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at Reliant Arena, 11/27/2013
Standing in the shadow of a diminishing Astrodome, the rarely used Reliant Arena played host to more than 5,000 Houstonians for a showcase of some of today's biggest hip-hop talent Wednesday, when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis returned to town for the first time since their highly lauded performance at Free Press Summer Fest earlier in the year.
While this show was lacking the JJ Watt and Mayor Parker guest spots of their previous performance -- I'm guessing Watt was milling around behind the scenes, as he was name-dropped onstage numerous times -- the duo still gave a high-energy set, and hardly seem to be slowing down. Given a chance to expand that set a bit more than at the host of festivals they've been playing all year, the Seattle duo used their first major arena gig in Houston to show just how far they've come in such a short period of time.
It was an odd trio of acts set to perform on what's being called "The Heist" tour, which took its name from their platinum-selling independently released 2012 debut LP. Joining the duo on the road are free-thinking Brooklyn hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and up-and-coming Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. While the three artists didn't really seem to mesh on paper, I think the event came off quite well, melding the three very different fanbases together for a quality night of music.
Unfortunately I didn't catch Big K.R.I.T., but the room seemed to be buzzing at the beginning of Kweli's set, so I'm sure he did a good job of hyping up the kiddies who got there early to secure their front-row spots. Talib Kweli is and will always be one of the best MCs in the game, with hits for days that were apparent during his short but sweet set. "The Blast" was introduced by a quick cover of Mos Def's "Umi Says," propelling his fans in the audience to hope for a one-off Black Star reunion right there in front of them. Sadly Yasiin Bey (what Mos Def calls himself these days) didn't show up, but at least Kweli could celebrate his part-time partner in crime with the tune.
It's certainly been quite the year for both Macklemore and his prized beatmaker Lewis. To call them an overnight success is an understatement, and ever since they entered people's ear sockets with the still-charming "Thrift Shop" barely a year ago, they've literally been everywhere.
They've performed all across the world, won major award after major award, and had the chance to spread their music and message on a much grander scale than they assuredly ever thought they'd be able to. They weren't that one-trick pony many at first mistook them to be, and now have stepped so far out of the shadows that you're going to need your sunglasses the next time they're around.
Granted, it was a bit misleading to feed the world the hooky "Thrift Shop" as their first single. Although you could argue that it was the root to their success, it's the only song that sounds anything remotely close to that on the album, or touches on similarly lighthearted material. Their next two singles, the instant chart-toppers "Can't Hold Us" and "Same Love," all of a sudden found them promoting a much stronger and more serious message about unbiased equality.
It's a far cry from the two of them goofing off at a Goodwill, but everyone seemed to eat the new direction up, eventually leading them to where they are today: selling 5,000-plus tickets at an odd venue in the south side of Houston on the eve of a major holiday. If it was a Friday in the summer, the place would've been doubly packed; not bad for some guys that were playing to rooms of 200 less than two years ago.
The performance itself was good. I think their shtick has mostly worn off on me, but I'm also under the unfortunate circumstance of having seen the exact same show three times in the past six months. Still though, when they told me to wave my hands, I waved my hands, and you can rest assured that I was singing along with everyone else during the hits.
Review continues on the next page.