Friday, November 23 – 10:30 am
I awake in a daze, and for a while don’t remember what’s so special about today. I have just gone through hell, staying up until 5:00 am to finish writing a report that is due the next day. I’ve entered one of those modes where I’m so tired to the point that I convinced myself five and half hours is a healthy amount of sleep for what is to come. And that’s when I remember that the Macklemore concert in Toronto is tonight, the very same concert that the ticket sitting on my bedside table will allow me to enter. That’s the reason today is so exciting! I tie up some details about handing in the project and get my stuff together for the adventure into Toronto’s nightlife.
I rush to catch the bus in my traditional procrastinating manner, stepping onto the bus dead last and do not even have time to sit down before the bus lurches forward and into the street. My head is a little clearer now, thanks to the magic of Chunky chicken and rice soup (I see you, Donovan McNabb). As I settle in for my journey to Union Station, I begin to think about what it is specifically that has made me such an avid supporter of his music. I first heard of Macklemore in my neighbor Joey’s basement back in 2009 when he showed me a little known song called “Otherside”. At first I thought this was just another white rapper using a sample of Red Hot Chili Peppers to attract YouTube views from a large demographic, but after I listened to the words in the song I quickly realized there was more to this man than was at first evident. Otherside is introduced by an audio clip describing the death of Pimp C due to an overdose on codeine and cough syrup, commonly referred to on the streets as sizzurp or lean. The song colourfully describes Macklemore’s personal problems with this damaging drink and the negative impact it had on his life. This struck me as being in stark contrast to a genre that tends to glorify drugs and alcohol with no consideration for the damaging effect this could have on their impressionable listeners. Macklemore’s ability to weave a picture of his own struggles that parallel those of a legend in hip-hop caught my interest immediately, and within a few months I was bumping The Vs. EP on repeat.
I pause my thoughts as I wait for a connecting bus at Square One, watching in amusement as two guys run as fast as they can to catch a bus, panting as they finally arrive to wait 15 minutes for the bus driver to finish a smoke break. I get on the next bus and my mind wanders to the beginning of the fall semester in 2011. By this point I had grown to admire Macklemore’s rapping abilities and appreciate Ryan Lewis’ production skills. This is the rare duo that complements each other’s skills perfectly, evoking memories of Gang Starr and Pete Rock & CL Smooth, to name a couple of legends. At this point in time, I had just joined Radio Laurier and was mentally preparing playlists and information about hip-hop that I hoped to one day share with the school. I went to the first Street Team booth (in the concourse weekly, still there go visit them!) and started talking with another new volunteer named Liz Murphy. We started talking about our favourite music, and being a small white guy, I tried not to show how truly gangster my musical taste was. I offered a few of my favourite artists before finally casually mentioning I’d been listening to this guy out of Seattle named Macklemore. As I was forming the second syllable of his name I could see Liz practically jump out of her chair in excitement as she quickly proclaimed her love for his music too. She was the first person outside of my neighbor and a few of his friends who had ever heard of Macklemore before I’d asked them. We talked about our favourite songs for a bit until she finally said the magic word: “Discography”, and it became my turn to jump out of my chair. I tried to contain my excitement as I asked in an entirely demanding way for all of the songs she had on her computer. I upload the songs to my iPod that night and proceed to listen to it on repeat for the next several weeks. That sealed the deal: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis was now my favourite duo of all time and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on more of their music.
Fast forward to 2012 and after much anticipation, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis finally drop “The Heist”, their first full length album. Naturally, I purchase a copy of it as soon as I can and haven’t stopped listening to it since the day it arrived in the alligator skin packaging (you read that right).
I meet up with Joey downtown, and as it always does the conversation eventually turns to music. No surprise that after not seeing each other since the Kendrick Lamar concert in September we are listening to the exact same music on our iPods. We get back to his apartment and start bumping music and getting pumped up for the concert in a few hours. Originally we were going to roll in with a big crew, but the rest of the boys dipped to go watch the Vanier Cup that was also happening downtown that night. No worries, we still had a great time, playing all our favourite Macklemore songs and defending our favourite choices. Before long it’s time to call a cab and head out to the concert, and this is where the story gets good.
The cab stops in front of Sound Academy and we couldn’t have timed it any better: there’s nobody in line! We walk in and are attacked by Liz Murphy, who is just a ball of excitement at this point in the night. We missed the opening band but who cares, that’s not what I paid money to see. We head to the bar and grab a couple drinks, and about halfway through the second drink we hear the opening notes of Ten Thousand Hours. I pull out my phone and send a quick tweet saying, “Let the heist begin…” and move towards the crowd to watch the best hour of the year unfold.
At the Concert
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis open up to Ten Thousand Hours, a fitting decision as this is the first song off the album. The song is all about Malcolm Gladwell’s ten thousand hour theory, where you need to put in 10,000 hours to be considered an expert at something. After the song is over Macklemore addresses the crowd and the place goes wild. This was a recurring theme of the night, as they always introduced each song with a little narrative instead of jumping straight from song to song. He starts talking about his favourite haircuts, and it’s time to dive into Crew Cuts. This is where I start getting in my zone, pumping my fist and rapping along with every word I can.
After playing Life is Cinema, Macklemore notices the attire of people in the crowd, mainly old clothes and fur coats. He points out one guy and gets him to send his fur coat up to the stage where he puts it on before declaring “Man, this thing smells like shit!” He then breaks right into Thrift Shop, an instant crowd pleaser.
The crowd was fully behind him for every song from start to finish, especially on songs like Otherside and Same Love, two of the most controversial songs he has put out to date. My favourite crowd reaction by far though had to be to “My Oh My”. When the break between the first and second verse came on, and the voice of Dave Niehaus came over the speakers accompanied by the video of that famous moment in Seattle sports came on the big screen, the crowd went absolutely ballistic. I had my fist in the air, screaming out in support of Seattle, before realizing that I was cheering on an event that happened 17 years ago in a city I’ve never been to. That’s the effect that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have on a crowd, that they can draw everyone into their performance so fully that you want to cheer for every moment that happens. And the best part is, every message in their songs is worth cheering for with all your heart.
After a few more songs it was nearing the end of the concert. As Macklemore & Ryan Lewis go to leave the stage nobody in the crowd had any doubt that he would be back out for an encore, and the chants of MACK-LE-MORE began in earnest. Suddenly he comes back out and the crowd goes nuts for what seems like the millionth time that night. And then this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vhf5cuXiLTA
Once the wig went on there was no turning back, and I swear the whole crowd was jumping and dancing so much that there were times where I was being held up off the floor by the energy of the crowd. He again tries to leave the stage, but you know how that works by now. The last song of the night was my St. Patrick’s Day favourite, Irish Celebration, and it was a fitting way to end the night. Cell phones in the air (it was all ages or else I would have put up my beer) the crowd sang along and ended the concert off right. As the mad rush for the merch booth began, I tried to think of one main takeaway from the night since there were so many great moments. I believe Macklemore himself summed it up best in one of his songs:
We danced. And we cried. And we laughed. And, above all else, we had a really really really good time. I know I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life.