Anchorage, AK — When I walked into the Egan Center Friday night to see Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, two things about the crowd were obvious: They were stoked, and a lot of people stopped at Value Village on the way to the show.
Dancers dressed in pajama pants, fringe jackets and curious headgear packed tight and close to the stage during DJ Spencer Lee's opening set. The second-hand swag was of course a response to the headliner's hit "Thrift Shop," which lived on the top of the iTunes and Billboard Hot 100 charts just before tickets for this show went on sale last month.
Those tickets sold out in two hours, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' star has continued to rise since then. Tickets on Craiglist were posted for as much as $300 apiece, so it's probably safe to say expectations were high Friday.
That said, for a show that sold out so quickly, there seemed an awful lot of extra space in the back of the room. The number of tickets sold was likely capped by the number of security staff on hand, so I'm guessing the show wasn't sold out because the venue was at capacity. Not that there wasn't a mass of humanity that filled every square inch within a couple hundred feet of the stage – I stuck to the less populated back half of the room. That sweaty throng is for younger concert-goers than myself, which was pretty much everyone on Friday.
In what was maybe a shrewd move of – let's call it setlistmanship – "Thrift Shop" was the third song. R&B singer Wanz even made the trip to Alaska just to sing the hook. A video projector above the stage flashed the lyrics to the song, and playing it so early in the evening almost seemed like a challenge to the crowd to keep up the enthusiasm.
It worked. The biggest highlights came afterward, and the best moment of the night came with the latest single, "Can't Hold Us." The building swayed with arms raised and a couple thousand people singing, "We put our hands in the air like the ceiling can't hold us," and it felt like the floor couldn't either.
The duo were joined by a trumpet player through the whole set (he launched into the hook of OutKast's "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" at one point), and between songs, Macklemore talked about their recent success. "Five or six years ago – at the time we would perform around the country to five people in a sports bar," he said. "Then all the sudden, it was 3,000 people in Anchorage, Alaska."
Alaska isn't often the climax in those kinds of stories, underscoring that the timing of this show had pushed it past the normal big concert to something closer to a capital-E Event. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a knack for seizing that moment. The enthusiasm on the stage seemed as genuine as in the crowd, and Macklemore talked about playing shows years ago in Fairbanks and Southeast Alaska.
And he made mention of the timing before performing "Same Love": "We are right in the middle of the biggest civil rights movement of our generation."
The song champions gay rights, and when the rapper explained "This next song attempts to strip away the fear from generation to generation that we have clung onto," the very large and very young crowd roared in agreement.