We left off last time with Mac Miller’s surprisingly good sophomore album Watching Movies With The Sound Off. For those who didn’t read it, Mac moved to L.A., did drugs, made talented friends, and got way better. The transformation is astonishing. It’s as if Kreayshawn followed up her Gucci Gucci fame by talking about race relations with Lauryn Hill. Now he’s on The Space Migration tour, with some talented friends opening up for him. Now one of the main conceits of his album is about to be put to the test; will his audience accept his new persona? As his performance proved, Mac Miller is a much more complex artist than any of his new or old fans would expect.
Looking out at the audience, I was figuring I had made a huge mistake. Regardless of Mac’s new work, only had his old fans were there and I wasn’t ready for an outtake of a bad American Pie ripoff. Luckily for me, the openers were more than enough balance. The best of the lot was Action Bronson. Bronsolino has been one of the hottest rappers for a minute, harkening back to old school New York sensibilities while injecting enough of his own personality to avoid being a complete parody. His new project Saaab Stories is exactly what Bam Bam needed to rejuvenate his appeal. After his critical breakthrough with last years Blue Chips, his shtick started to grow old. Every verse seemed to rehash the same topics; high cuisine and 80’s sports references. What was worse was his misogynist routine was becoming grating and outdated. But Saaab Stories provided a change of tone, allowing for more introspection and stories while keeping the best parts of his old act. The song all translated well in a live setting as well, surprising given the tinny laptop vibe Harry Fraud’s beats give off. Action handled the frat crowd like a pro. He rapped crisp and clear, letting the beat drop for his punchlines, and brought out pro wrestler Big Body Bes to talk some shit. It was a reminder why he is one of the hottest rappers in the game.
The big draw on the ticket however, was Chance The Rapper. A 20 year old from Chicago, Chance is almost too good to be true. His album Acid Rap, released for free is indisputably the best album of the year so far. It captures the heart of Chicago. It mixes gospel and soul, brings together Twista and R. Kelly, and Chance goes right at Kanye’s legacy. Acid Rap is the rap game Calvin & Hobbes, satirizing entrenched establishments, bringing childlike wonder to familiar tropes, and bleeding honesty and passion like he hasn’t been hardened by the world yet. Hearing about his sold out shows in Chicago and given the anthemic nature of his material, my expectations were sky high. I could not have been more disappointed. Chance’s show was a classic “young rapper performance.” His hype man shouted over every lyric. He performed only snippets of his songs and had to break to engage the audience in a “DO YOU GUYS LIKE MY MUSIC,” shouting match. By the end of the show it was as if he was just another normal teenager, begging the audience to turn up, bringing out Mac Miller just to dance, and ending the set by playing Drake! Have some self respect damnit! There were flashes of brilliance and I can’t wait to see him again on his own tour, but it was so sad watching his strengths on the album vanish. His voice, one of the most distinctive in the game, was completely engulfed by the generic hypeman. The length of the set made him cut some of the most concert worthy lines of his album (Lean all on the square….THAT’S A FUCKING RHOMBUS!!!!). And while he danced great, and displayed an impressive singing voice, his emotional prayers and softer moments fell on deaf ears.
The crowd tolerated these two acts. They did what they were told, but clearly they didn’t belong. When they waved their hands in the air, it was as if they were petting a large dog. But Mac Miller had a few tricks up his sleeve too. His intro music was a NASA speech, with synths whirling while smoke filled the stage. I suppose this was a wake up call for a lot of Easy Mac fans; Mr. Miller had gotten weird. My neighbor in the Steelers jersey was not amused. The first half of the concert was pretty de rigueur. Loud music, turning up, call and response choruses, what I would expect his older stuff was. But around the halfway mark, things got interesting. He brought out a band to play some of his new material and at points played the guitar himself and got his Eddie Vedder on. Psychedelic beats were turned into throwback jam sessions and Mac actually tore it up, riffing all the way and soloing BEHIND HIS HEAD. At one point in a new song (I swear I couldn’t even make this up), he actually ventured off into an instrumental cover of Radiohead’s “Reckoner.” I could feel the confusion emanating from the crowd. During the encore, he proceeded to indulge his musical impulses, playing piano and singing “Youforia,” jumping on the drum set for a Keith Moon impersonation, and then cartwheeling all over the stage. By the time he ended his show by transforming “Watching Movies” into a grunge look-a-like, the statement was made. Mac Miller was growing up and even his fans are aware of that now.