BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis last played Atlanta it was in 2013, at the height of their “Thrift Shop” fame and a few months before the Seattle duo would ignite a furor after the Grammy Awards for winning a Best Rap Album trophy (one of four they earned that night).
Now they’re preparing for the February release of their four-years-in-the-making follow-up to “The Heist” with a month-long tour of smaller venues.
On Friday, Macklemore (aka Ben Haggerty) and Ryan Lewis packed the Fox Theatre with a spirited concert meant to satiate fans rather than present much of a peek at their long-gestating new work.
Here are three takeaways from the show.
1. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis know how to have fun.
Performing their biggest hit, the unshakeable earworm “Thrift Shop,” as the second song of the show established a tone that carried through their 90-minute set (the streamers also helped). While the trio of hip-hop dancers that occasionally popped up behind Macklemore were more accessories than necessities, their dance-off at the end of “White Walls” impressed.
A trio of horn players, a drummer and Lewis’ addition of percussion, guitar and hype elevated the live sound, allowing Macklemore to romp around with his friendly swagger to “Crew Cuts” and the showstopping climax, “Downtown.” Rapper Kool Moe Dee made a surprise appearance during the track and owned the stage in his shades, baseball cap and camouflage shirt, while Foxy Shazam’s Eric Nally added his Freddie Mercury-ish touches to the song.
And of course, Raven Bowie, Macklemore’s alter ego (His parents? Samuel Jackson and Lady Gaga) appeared on video and then onstage as Macklemore, in blonde shag wig and velvet jacket led a singalong of “And We Danced.”
2. Macklemore likes to talk.
One reason Macklemore is such a magnet to young fans is his approachability. In his jeans, gray T-shirt and black jacket that would look woefully unhip on anyone not on a stage, the 32-year-old bounced and grinned and talked.
About the snowstorm that hindered their East Coast dates last weekend (“I love to be on a stage and I love to be in front of the people.”).
About the spine of their equal rights anthem, “Same Love” (“The choice should be up to us!”).
About the Fox Theatre (“This place is [expletive] magical. How old is this building? They don’t do things like that anymore.”).
And, most poignantly, about his 2008 trip to rehab and his lifelong struggle to stay clean (“I was never good at using drugs or alcohol.”). Macklemore has his critics, but it’s hard to persecute a guy for being open-hearted.
3. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have a message.
The lyrics of their material frequently veer toward the kooky (see: “Thrift Shop,” “Downtown”), but in songs such as “Otherside,” which Macklemore performed a capella to give the anti-drug rap additional gravitas, there is plenty worth hearing. The duo’s new track, “Kevin,” performed with Leon Bridges on video, contains a loose groove, gospel backing vocals and piano shades – and a lot of emotional pain at the loss of a friend from drugs. Fans can only hope that Macklemore’s honesty is a constant on “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made,” out Feb. 26.