TAMPA — Even if you weren’t a big fan of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ nice-guy, Top-40 rap songs, you couldn’t deny the next-level showmanship Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, displayed at the Sun Dome in Tampa Saturday night. And if you were a fan, your head might have exploded from glee.
Heralded by a trumpet player in a plaid leisure suit, Macklemore rose from the stage in a cloud of fog wearing a gold-sequined military jacket that looked more King of Pop than hip hop and kicked things off with “10,000 Hours,” the same track that opens the rapper-producer duo’s album “The Heist.”
That 2012 album became a surprise smash hit when it was released independently with almost zero mainstream promotion. On their first major tour, and performing for the first time in the Tampa Bay area, Macklemore used the concert to expand on its themes: love, acceptance, struggle, unusual style, goofball humor and the do-it-yourself spirit.
Between fireworks and confetti showers, Macklermore energetically navigated a stage decorated with a full-sized stuffed bear to perform most of the “The Heist,” including “White Walls,” “Neon Cathedral” and “Can’t Hold Us” (twice).
Scanning the crowd for his favorite looks, he borrowed a Santa Claus sweater and a Davy Crockett-style coon-skin cap from the audience to perform “Thrift Shop.” Before “And We Danced” he donned a long wig and flamboyant, sparkly cape to become the regal “Sir Raven Bowie” character. At other times, he wore a plain black tank top and black jeans.
Those sharply contrasting looks illustrate the curious space Macklemore occupies, with one foot in the world of serious hip hop and the other firmly planted in the pop mainstream. That diversity showed in the crowd too, which had a fairly equal representation of college kids, gray-haired couples dressed up for date night and cool, young parents with their pre-teen children in Macklemore jerseys.
Macklemore’s long monologues between nearly every song would have been trying, if he didn’t come off as such an earnest guy. He shared stories about everything from going to rehab for drugs and alcohol, to the fateful Myspace friend request that sparked his collaboration with Ryan Lewis, to eating hot dogs with Snoop Lion at Mariah Carey’s house.
The tour benefits from some great backup. The backing band consisted of a violinist, a cellist, a drummer, two trombone players and show-stealing trumpet player Owuor Arunga, who is just a flat out, wild man on stage, and deserves to be a household name in his own right. Ryan Lewis, for the most part, kept his spot in back behind a laptop and his DJ gear.
Singer Mary Lambert came out to perform her chorus on the gay rights ballad “Same Love,” which was a definite highlight.
Up-and-comer Big K.R.I.T., from Mississippi, and veteran Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli opened the show, and should have provided an added draw for hip hop purists, but only went over so-so. A frustrated-seeming Kweli especially struggled to hold the crowd, which didn’t seem to know him until he closed with his best-known song “Get By.”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are set to perform live on the American Music Awards tonight at 8 on ABC. They’re nominated for six AMAs, the most of any artist this year, including Artist of the Year.