Freestyle: Macklemore does it right

Jun. 14, 2013 | 0 Comments

Macklemore had big rapport with the fans at Thursday's concert in Kakaako. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Macklemore had big rapport with the fans at Thursday’s concert in Kakaako. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

A good outdoor rock show is one of the better things in life, when the elements fall into place.

Thursday at Kakaako Waterfront Park, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Neon Trees brought the experience pretty close to the sublime.

(Star-Advertiser photo by Amy Busek)

Macklemore performs at Kakaako Waterfront Park. (Star-Advertiser photo by Amy Busek)

Both bands really went for it, and they had a pumped, happy crowd to spur them on. About 5,400 people were there for a free show compliments of Microsoft, which opened its first Hawaii store at Ala Moana Center earlier that day.

Both acts were engaged, on their game and fun to watch. I was surprised later to find that I’d shot more than 400 photos during the performances – but that’s a reflection of how much there was to enjoy.

MACKLEMORE & LEWIS were the undisputed champs this night.

Macklemore, the hip-hop frontman, has huge energy and charm, and the duo’s music is funky, smart and even important.

The band makes its statement with “Same Love,” set in the first person from the point of view of a gay-questioning boy and straight, compassionate young man — both of whom are in truth Macklemore.

What’s lovely about this is that crowds embrace it and respond to the story and the sentiment.

Setting up the song, 29-year-old Macklemore, aka Ben Haggerty, said, “I believe in equality. I believe in compassion. I believe in tolerance, and I believe in love.”

The crowd let up a cheer. And when he sang it out — “Underneath it’s all the same love / About time that we raised up” — fans raised their lighters, swayed along and beamed.

Macklemore did quite a bit of talking to the crowd in between songs, looking to make a connection — a cool, personal touch.

Baritone-voiced singer Wanz, Ryan Lewis and Macklemore went for broke on "Thrift Shop." (Star-Advertiser photo by Amy Busek)

Baritone-voiced singer Wanz, Ryan Lewis and Macklemore went for broke on “Thrift Shop.” (Star-Advertiser photo by Amy Busek)

His patter in front of “Thrift Shop” was maybe a little off the mark — he was trying to label the local crowd stylish, but the sea of tank tops and shorts worn by many who’d slept in the Ala Moana Center’s parking garage the night before didn’t quite bear that out, so he ended up setting on the term “easy” for our casual look.

Still, I give him points for paying attention.

This was no stripped-down performance, either.

Crowd-surfing, practically over my head! (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Crowd-surfing, practically over my head! (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Wanz was right there, looking sharp in a white suit, to sing his deep vocals for “Thrift Shop”: “I’m gonna pop some tags, I got 20 dollars in my pocket …”

Touring trumpet-player Owuor Arunga prowled the stage in a red head-wrap, hitting the blue notes.

And Macklemore was every bit the wild man he’s been at other high-profile performances: bounding up on speakers in his Boston Celtics tank top, arms pumping; doing that crazy jump he does where he practically flies, both legs curved out in front of him; and wearing a big, ugly blonde wig for “And We Danced,” the duo’s ode to full party-mode commitment.

He didn’t just approach the fans — he walked right out into and on top of the crowd for a little bit of agile, upright crowd-surfing. Even I was screaming by that point.

NEON TREES had a tough act to follow, but the group won most of the crowd over with spirit and polish, charm and a good light show — not to mention a series of catchy songs. I’m a fan of this band’s cunning, optimistic post-pop sound, which blends elements of alt-rock, new wave, power pop and dance music into a tart, hopped-up brew.

Lead singer Tyler Glenn, looking slim and sharp with his bleached-blonde, close-cropped hair, mod jackets and dramatic moves, stayed in constant motion, and drummer Elaine Bradley was a kick. The band’s feel for the bump and style of ’80s music was made obvious with its song “1983.” At times, you could feel the beats pushing air out into the crowd — and hey, that felt good.

As the show neared its end, Glenn said, “Thank you so much for camping out for this show. Thank you so much for being here.” But we could as easily have thanked his band for coming out to Hawaii.

Neon Trees. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

Neon Trees. (Star-Advertiser photo by Elizabeth Kieszkowski)

The show was “free,” but there was a price, of course. You had to be willing to wait in line for the opening of Ala Moana’s new Microsoft store, and hundreds did, starting Wednesday afternoon, sleeping as best they could in the mall’s parking garage.

This requirement skewed the audience toward the young and strong, and there were lots of high-school students celebrating their summer break in the crowd. We wrote about the rules and covered the mob scene at the mall as people gathered to see the store and get tickets; see the complete photo gallery here.

But forget all that. The show was a winner. It rained a little on Thursday, but it was mostly sunny in the afternoon by the time the gates opened, and I saw a wide, bright rainbow in the sky as I snaked my way through the line with 5,000 other fans.

That rainbow was a sign of things to come: big, beautiful and right out there for enjoying, free of charge.
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Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com or follow her on Twitter.

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