When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis appeared on stage at the Capital FM Arena Nottingham, 24th April 2016, it was to a small-ish standing audience (it was a Sunday) and a mere few people dotted around in the seating areas. The two quickly acknowledged this; ‘We realise you all have work tomorrow, but we’d like to say, for those who can, stand up.’

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Lewis and Macklemore in the studio Photograph: theconsciousresistance.co.uk

And with the duo’s electrifying stage presence, sure enough, after the first couple of songs from their latest album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, the entire arena responded energetically throughout the night. Macklemore stood centre-stage, rapping lyrics written for perfect performance, Ryan Lewis elevated fittingly behind him: ‘This is my world, this is my arena’ with an electro backing-track MGMT would be proud of.
A four-person strong orchestra stood at one side, energetically tearing into the performance of ‘Light Tunnels’, which, side note, was safe to say one of the most electrifying songs I have ever seen performed live. The self-conscious lyrics, written with Macklemore’s ego-driven yet self-questioning style about his fame, paired with classical instruments and the duo’s back-and-forth rapport, made for immersive entertainment. As well as this, in between songs Macklemore addressed the audience to speak about the issues that had inspired certain lyrics, and his performances often seemed a dedication to a chosen topic that had fuelled the songs – such as the latest refugee crisis, loving one another despite religious differences, and gay rights.

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Lewis and Macklemore Photograph: theconsciousresistance.co.uk

And the song ‘Same Love’ (a risky one at the time, before the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and being a response to homophobia within rap music) was one of the most emotionally-driven performances the night had to offer. The whole audience silently rose to their feet after Macklemore’s question, and altogether it made the experience seem unified and connected.

Another politically-driven song was ‘White Privilege II’, which has been taken controversially, as its release has been taken differently by different artists and movements on Twitter. One part of the song deals with the style of an ‘unwittingly racist’ American mom-style reaction to his music (against the topics of guns, violence): ‘You’re the only hip-hop I let my kids listen to’ – to which his response is that he ‘hasn’t needed to rap about these’, as he’s benefited from being white and middle-class, something that is seemingly less spoken about by fellow artists in such a position. Macklemore’s intention seemed to be to expose the racism within the music industry and attempt to distance himself from that response or at least educate those listeners, whilst trying to explain his own complicity, as a privileged, white male and the benefits he reaps from this.

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Macklemore performing live Photograph: rollingstone.com

I thought that this performance was incredible, caused by a projection behind Macklemore onto the huge screen, of another emotionally-driven video of the racism experienced within the industry, with artist Jamelia Woods at the forefront, singing softly ‘Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury.’ This respectfully took the attention away from him, to demonstrate that he was there to expose the problem, without focusing it solely on his performance.

Personally, my favourite performance of the night was ‘Can’t Hold Us’. At the end, thousands of confetti streamed from the ceiling into the crowd, causing a raining parade as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis departed, leaving fans just yearning for more.

Posted by Elizabeth Gough

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