Macklemore, Auckland New Zealand, 2018

Macklemore
9th February 2017
Spark Arena, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Sarah Kidd. Photography by David Watson.

Macklemore performing live in Auckland, New Zealand 2018. Image by David Watson Photography.

It’s Friday night at the end of a short week for most New Zealanders, so despite the crazy weather currently plaguing Auckland (is this honestly summer?) the party vibe was strong amongst the thousands making their way to Spark Arena tonight for American artist Macklemore.

The audience this evening were certainly a mixed bag, ranging from parents bringing along the under twelves through to a few workmates having a girls night out, in many ways an indication of just how much of a reach Macklemore’s music truly has. While technically there are two separate support acts tonight, due the fact that both join Macklemore on stage later in the evening and in all fairness are long-time friends, both support slots feel more like an extension of the main show itself; a prologue if you will.

Xperience (XP to the fans as we are all now “best friends”) certainly knew how to get the crowd going. A member of the hip-hop group Oldominion, XP has the skills when it comes to spitting a few rhymes, but he also had an instant rapport with the audience, often seeing them laugh along with him as he talked about being the guy on stage with the “freshest hat you have ever seen.” While his set was sort, with not even half a dozen tracks played, XP still managed to deliver a couple off his 2016 album Chasing Grace, including 98’, ‘Not Today -’ which was dedicated to all the “haters with an extra ‘s’” out there – and the rather touching ‘Me Time’, written as a coping mechanism by XP after he lost his mother three years ago to breast cancer; the latter he finished with strongly by going full a capella. But the highlight of his short but sweet set had to be his performance of ‘Black’ which saw XP joined on stage by the rather limber-limbed Eric Nally (formally of the rock band Foxy Shazam) who looked strangely resplendent in his figure hugging black attire complete with Zorro-style eye mask.

Being one of the simplest stage set-ups that Spark Arena has seen in a while, the crowd did not have to wait long before the second support act of the night arrived. Going by the name of Dave B – another Seattle based musician – he arrived to much applause from the fans down the front who were obviously familiar with his work. With yet again another short set, Dave B still managed to impress moving seamlessly from R&B styled tunes to those with a little more bite to them. ‘Right Here’ and ‘Down’ both coming across well before he closed his set out with ‘Pink Fleece’. During his set however, the sound mix (which was often ridiculously bass-ridden in some areas) was rather muddy, often burying his voice. An issue that surely would be sorted before Macklemore arrived on stage.

Ben Haggerty aka Macklemore is the guy that made Thrift Shopping cool again. The song that became an earworm for days, certainly boosting his career and seeing both himself and Ryan Lewis included on all the hottest guest lists around town. However this is the Gemini tour and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have parted ways, leaving Macklemore – and a rather talented bunch of musicians and stage performers – to fill the rather large gap that Lewis left. Arriving – naturally – to raucous applause, you can’t help but notice that the set up appears to be rather stripped back. With little to no on stage musical equipment, save for a very small drum kit set up in the furthest corner it gave the feeling of being slightly amateurish. What it did do though was give Macklemore and his team plenty of room to move and that is one thing that Macklemore loves to do, often taking up the entire space as he dances, struts and basically entertains the entire night.

With a two piece brass section, and back-up singers, along with a couple of roving musicians Macklemore hit the ground running as he kicked off his set with ‘Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight’, the large floor to ceiling big screen behind him, projecting a range of images that tied in with the lyrics of the song. Dressed in a simple combo of black jacket over jeans, there is an undeniable feel good vibe to Macklemore, especially when he smiles; moving through the opener for the evening, he – along with his band of onstage performers – give it everything to get the night started off right, Eric Nally once again making an appearance (this time in checked pants and quirky red beret) for that extra oomph. Macklemore also loves to talk to his audience. While crowd interaction is great, especially for those in the front few rows, it can easily tip from being entertaining to tiresome and it is a fine line that Macklemore often teeters along the edge of. But it’s the start of the night, so the usual salutations and short story of how he is now completely obsessed with our lolly ‘Fruit Bursts’ – to the point that he bought six bags yesterday – are harmless enough.

Barely through the second track, the rock soaked ‘Firebreather’ and Macklemore once again is talking up the audience “I see what you are doing, don’t try to be slick, you are trying to be the best show on this tour!!” While cliché as all hell, the crowd laps it up and cheers loudly in confirmation. This then prompted Macklemore to move onto a rather lengthy anecdote of talking to his daughter back home (Sloane is two and a half) via skype and her telling him that he had to play her favourite song (‘Marmalade’) … unlikely, but slightly cute none the less. Macklemore also shared the joyous news with the audience that Sloane is about to become a big sister, which rightly so triggered off another round of applause. But it was when Macklemore dropped his older tunes of the night that the party really got started; ‘Thrift Shop’ especially just being one of those tunes that you can’t help but sing to. While no Wanz this time around, the track can still easily hold its own live and when followed up with ‘White Walls’ it made for a killer combo that had the whole arena jumping.

But sadly the muddy song mix that featured earlier in the night was not going away, Macklemore’s voice often disappearing under the backing tracks or just being drowned out altogether by the intermittent far-too-loud bass. Bass is great, Bass is gooooooddd, and when used correctly can lift a track and turn it into an absolute club banger both recorded and live. But when not used correctly, or mixed into a live set well, all it does is kill the performance and cause a headache.

One topic Macklemore has always preached and admirably so, is the belief that everybody has the right to be who they are and love who they love without fear of reprisal; and his track ‘Same Love’ captures all of this and more perfectly. Performed with reverence, the crowd swayed in time and raised their voices to the rafters, being Pride Festival here in Auckland; the song just seemed all the sweeter. Back to his latest offerings, ‘Willy Wonka’ slayed and saw Macklemore strut his stuff up and down the stage in a purple velvet coat and orange top hat, while ‘Corner Store’ saw him joined on stage by Dave B who features on the recorded version. ‘Over It’ however was once again destroyed by the overzealous bass which disappointingly completely drowned out what sounded to be killer vocals by Donna Missal. ‘Dance Off’ soon brought the energy levels back up though as Macklemore pulled off a nice little dance routine with the ‘Mackerettes’, his dance duo of Anna and Kiana, before they dragged two young fans up on stage for a friendly dance off; a young boy by the name of Isaac taking the cake with his head banging style of stomp dancing which saw Macklemore compare him to a young “Kurt Cobain”; “that kid was straight up from the grunge era” he laughed.

Coming into the home straight and ‘Can’t Hold Us’ can still get an entire arena up on its feet, Macklemore introducing the song by asking one and all to pretend it’s 1976 and that there are no cell phones, encouraging the audience to put them away and live in the moment. They certainly did, screens disappearing as everyone raised their arms in the air to clap; that was until Macklemore decided to clamber out into the audience and walk across people’s hands, the moment far too good to pass up for those addicted to social media platforms. While both ‘Excavate’ and ‘Good Old Days’ (featuring recoded Kesha vocals) went down well, it was the track ‘Downtown’ that once again got the crowd pumping; all on stage going hard with the dance moves. Of course it couldn’t be ‘Downtown’ without those soaring vocals of Eric Nally, so lucky for all he is in the building as he once again joins Macklemore on stage (dressed in the same outfit as the official music video) and lends his chops to the song, taking it to the next level.

“Normally this is where I say peace out, going home, goodnight … but in Auckland, New Zealand … Grandma would cuss me out for not playing her song!” While the sentiment is again nice, it’s also slightly corny, as one of his biggest songs (Macklemore even brings out a double platinum award he received this evening for the track) it would be an obvious addition to the tour’s set list. Never the less, it goes down well and has the audience singing along to its gospel style chorus (and frankly who can’t love that music video – Macklemore’s Grandmother having to be one of the cutest damn things around!)

“Auckland, I just want to say one thing before I get Outta here, you guys are one of the most incredible crowds I have played in years!” Leading a three time chant of the word “Peace”, Macklemore bids the crowd goodnight; but for those who didn’t make a dash for the door they were treated to some ‘dancing in the dark’ as the stage lights were dimmed and Macklemore danced alone on stage to the James Brown track ‘I Feel Good’ while wiping his face on several t-shirts before throwing them out into the audience.

Feel good vibes intact, the fans faced the rain outside with a grin on their faces.

Were you there at Spark Arena for this brilliant show? Or have you seen Macklemore perform live some other time? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Setlist:
  1. Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight
  2. Firebreather
  3. Marmalade
  4. Thrift Shop
  5. White Walls
  6. Same Love
  7. Willy Wonka
  8. Corner Store
  9. Over It
  10. Dance Off
  11. Can’t Hold Us
  12. Excavate
  13. Good Old Days
  14. Downtown
  15. Glorious

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