Macklemore in the Thrift Shop video.
“Who had heard of me three months ago?” asks Ben Haggerty, the MC who calls himself Macklemore, after watching an ecstatic all-ages audience chant flawlessly along to an early handful of tunes from his debut album with producer Ryan Lewis, The Heist.
Many in the Metro pass Macklemore's devotion test by keeping up with the machine-gun rhymes of 2010's comparatively ancient Other Side, but so rapid has been the rise of this duo from Seattle that it's fair to say most music fans didn't have a clue who they were until late last year.
That changed when the pair's fun and funky jam Thrift Shop went viral on the back of a killer mid-tempo hip-hop beat, a simple, addictive horn sample and memorable lyric grabs (“Damn, that's a cold-ass honky” … “This is f---ing awesome”). Without the help of a major record label, the track raced to No.1 in the ARIA charts, last month topped the Triple J Hottest 100 survey and hit the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, where it still reigns supreme.
Proving he is as confident with his repertoire as he is as a rapper, Macklemore dispenses with both a seismic Thrift Shop and its superior follow-up, the No.1 ARIA single Same Love – a thoughtful, heroic ode advocating gay rights – within the first half-hour.
He keeps energy levels up by engaging the audience with standard hip-hop call-and-response techniques and even a few hilarious disco moves during And We Danced, but the key to the night's success comes down, as it should, to the songs and the performance.
Macklemore sharply delivers his rhymes, while the extraordinary ear of Lewis (as acknowledged by his cohort) means the beats and samples swell with rhythm and melody. The whole shebang benefits further from the trumpet blasts (and occasional cymbal bashing) of their charismatic offsider, Owuor Arunga.
The more serious tunes may often follow a pretty blatant formula – melancholic piano hook leads to Macklemore all but reciting portentously, followed by a soaring chorus – but they still work as well as the unashamed party jams.
It's not quite “f---ing awesome” but still hugely entertaining.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis play at the Metro Theatre on Tuesday and the Enmore Theatre on Friday. Their Australian tour has sold out.