The Mack is back! Macklemore on St. Patrick's Day is just what SXSW in Austin needed
Hip-hop artist Macklemore performed one of the most energetic acts of South by Southwest 2023 during his surprise performance Friday night at ACL Live. The audience hollered, stomped and danced their hearts out well past midnight, standing shoulder to shoulder in the pit by the stage and filling most of the balcony seats.
“It’s not lost on me how special this weekend is for music,” said Macklemore, referring to the SXSW Music Festival, which ends Saturday in Austin. Before beginning his set, the artist, whose real name is Ben Haggerty, reminisced about a SXSW early on in his career, when he was booked to perform seven shows in one day — and he lost his voice by the sixth set.
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But Macklemore’s voice was loud and clear Friday night as he performed more than a dozen songs from his repertoire spanning more than a decade. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, he waved a large Irish flag while performing “Irish Celebration” before tossing it to the audience to pass through the crowd.
“Music is a form of spirituality,” Macklemore informed the audience. “Put those hands all the way up — and if you have a seat, please get the (expletive) up out of it.”
He and his band performed not one, not two, but three encores, ending on “Can’t Hold Us,” his impossibly catchy sleeper hit from 2012. In defiance of his own lyrics, perhaps, Macklemore jumped off of the stage into the eager arms of his fans for the last half of the song.
“What I love about live music is this,” he confided to the cheering audience, gesturing toward the arms outstretched in his direction as he knelt by the edge of the stage. “You can’t feel this (energy) from a stream, from a TikTok, from an Instagram reel. This is our show. Not my show, not their show, this is all of our shows in this moment.”
Macklemore was a consummate artist Friday, drawing that energy from his audience and shaping it at will. His boppiest hits blended his crisp rap with beautiful vocals by his two back-up singers, while bright images popped off the big screen behind the stage.
The occasional ballad kept listeners in thrall, punctuated by precisely enunciated monologues that took on the cadence and intensity of spoken word poetry. In between songs, he charmed the crowd with anecdotes, inspirational exhortations and quippy observations.
The performance would not have been complete without the sparkle of his team. His musicians perfectly complemented his intensity, adding to the je ne sais quoi of his live performance. One of his musicians did double duty as both the drummer and the guitarist, while the trombonist all but took on the additional role of back-up dancer by grooving all over the upper stage while he played.
Everyone seemed comfortable playing a game of “musical performers” at times, most notably when Macklemore took over the drums when special guest Eric Nally showed up in an epic mullet and mustache to sing lead on 2016 hit “Downtown.”
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The performers’ outfits gave off secondhand-chic vibes that seemingly paid homage to “Thrift Shop,” the song that made Macklemore the celebrity he is today. The few subtle fit tweaks mid-set made the performance almost as much of a fashion show as it was a concert: Macklemore’s short-sleeve white button-down served as a base for multiple layers, including a gray sports jacket and a black leather Harley Davidson vest.
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His female vocalist rocked a metallic crop top under a loose overshirt with high-waisted bellbottoms, and the remaining two performers both sported statement headwear. The drummer shed his shirt and played bare-chested for the final third of the show, while Macklemore gave a humorous shout-out to his trombonist for being “brave enough to wear mesh in the winter.”
“The love that I have felt here tonight, this right here is why I wake up in the morning to make art,” Macklemore ended the night by saying to a screaming horde of fans. “This is my reminder that there is no place on Earth I would rather be, because of the love you have shown the entire time. Make some noise for yourselves on the count of three — say ‘Peace!’”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Macklemore energizes SXSW 2023 at ACL Live in Austin