Live: Mac Miller at Hammerstein Ballroom

Photographer Geordie Wood
July 17, 2013
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    Only Mac Miller could bring together a lineup like this. The plucky Pittsburgh rapper has spent the past year making new friends, inviting various rising rap figures to his sprawling LA property to smoke weed and record for free—kind of like when Bart became the most popular kid at Springfield Elementary after Homer and Marge bought a backyard pool. His hobnobbing with the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q and Alchemist gave him creative energy, and helped him craft Watching Movies with the Sound Off, the darker, more experimental follow-up to his rosy-cheeked debut Blue Side Park. At Hammerstein Ballroom Tuesday night, Mac shared his bright spotlight with deserving guests: Vince Staples, The Internet, and Chance the Rapper all got to strut their stuff in front of a sold-out crowd of hormonal high schoolers. (For real though—security patrolled with flashlights when a few couples got too hot and heavy.)

    As The Internet, Syd tha Kid and Matt Martians are dead set on giving astral jazz and neo-soul a new life amongst the youth sect, and Syd’s cult following of anti-it girls have propped the band up for their upcoming second release, Feel Good. Syd and Matt both readily admit they are still learning, so it's possible their live show changes and grows with each gig. On this night their sound was somewhat muddy and the slower pace dragged at some points. Still, Syd is an engaging if not powerful singer, and her lyrics can be poignant. They say that everyday’s a struggle and it takes time, but do they, do they have a clue? she asks on “They Say,” a thumping R&B cut about how dese niggas won’t hold you back. Backed by a five-piece band, she and Martians commanded the crowd with charm, and ended their set without any flashy solos, letting a spacey groove melt into applause.

    Soon, Chance the Rapper’s DJ took the stage to hype up the crowd, playing a stacked set of of-the-moment club anthems for the auditorium of teenagers. “Bandz A Make Her Dance” specifically prompted some JV twerking that made me want to wash my eyes out with soap. Thankfully, Chance suddenly burst on stage to “Good Ass Intro” with the animation of a Sunday pastor. He’d earned his stripes touring the country with Donald Glover in 2012, and it makes sense that he spent a few months opening for an actor. Chance is both emotive and explosive live, and his persona comes off as strong as it does on his acclaimed Acid Rap. Soulful “Cocoa Butter Kisses” was a crowd favorite, and Ab-Soul came out for the slow-burning bounce of “Smoke Again.” Shadows of Eminem and Kanye West loomed as Chance darted back and forth across the stage. He’s clearly at home in front of an audience.

    After the string of openers, the lights dimmed and a grainy, static-soaked voice radioed in from the deep cosmos.The crowd erupted in a swirl of purple lights and heavy fog, and soon Mac had crash landed on stage wearing denim overalls (purchased during an earlier FADER TV shoot) and a mischievous grin. He swigged from a bottle of Jameson whiskey between bars on opener “Loud,” and churned through the first half of his hour-plus set with a slapstick energy, sprinting, leaping, and fake passing out to his fans’ delight. These were diehard Mac Millerites who knew every word, and Mac half-seriously addressed the progression they’ve watched closely since day one. “It’s been a weird year for me,” he confessed between cuts. “Everybody always asks, ‘What happened to Mac? Where did all these big ass chains come from? Oh I know what it is. It must be the drugs!” he said before launching into "Red Dot Music," his collaboration with Action Bronson and Loaded Lux from Watching Movies. Later Earl Sweatshirt, in town after performing in a tiny garage for vitaminwater and The FADER's #uncapped series on Monday, also popped up. “Give it up for yourselves, white people!” he shouted after their collab “I’m Not Real,” and didn’t overstay his welcome. The same can’t be said for Mac, who brought The Internet back out to shift gears into a smoky jam band set that, if lovable, simply went on too long. Between live renditions of his Flying Lotus collab “SDS” and the infamous Lord Finesse-jacking “Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza,” Mac covered a rockabilly song, played an extended (extended) guitar solo behind his head, and rapped the theme song to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. By the time he fired up a chant of “Thank You Based God!” many in the crowd were fatigued, and some kids toward the back streamed out early. But spontaneity was key to the spirit of his set, and it’s clear that Mac is currently having the time of his life. If this eccentric phase of his career continues to provide bigger platforms for fellow artists as engaging as these, the better for all of us to sit back and watch.

    Live: Mac Miller at Hammerstein Ballroom