Macklemore’s hip-hop lovefest, The Ben Tour rocked The Masonic on Saturday, October 14, 2023. Looking tanned and trim, strutting on to the stage in a baseball cap–half Oakland As and half San Francisco Giants—Macklemore opened with “CHANT.” A lyrical response to critics and his own personal issues, the song set the tone for the show: “You can’t take my voice from me/ I will rise up, rise up.” Macklemore—literal and metaphoric; his voice strong and clear—had a lot to say, after a period of struggling with addiction and finding his way back from the musical wilderness.
The Seattle native, who obviously feels an intense connection to the Bay Area, promised a “musical journey” in which the only way to go forward was to go back: thus, a rapturous “Thrift Shop,” with the audience singing sections of the song.
Describing the day in San Francisco with his daughter Sloane, Macklemore recounted their scooter trip in The City which ended with a 1am pizza run in the Tenderloin. This jaunt spurred a list of myriad reasons why he loves the Bay Area: the How Weird Street Faire, a lowrider cruise, diversity, multiplicity of cultures, E-40 affinity—all of which introduced “No Bad Days.” During the song Macklemore channeled his inner child and doused the audience with a giant water squirter.
The most moving part of the show was when, after “White Walls,” Mackelmore articulated his goals as an artist. By connecting with an audience he wants to “get rid of [his] masks and be a human.” One way he did that is to directly address the horrific situation in the Middle East. He explained that no parents should have to see their children suffer. Macklemore noted that his “heart aches for humanity” and that his shows are always a “safe place to be your authentic self.” Embracing all people, Macklemore added another layer to “Same Love.”
Sharing many of the Ben songs, The Heist hits, and a smattering of other favorites, the through-line was Macklemore’s desire to simply be himself: a parent (with an acknowledgment that the Tenderloin at night might invite criticism), a “flawed man” who has struggled with addiction, a human who acknowledges the suffering of others, and above all, someone who embraces the joie de vivre of daily life. Nowhere was this more evident than the dance off that came partway through the show.
Macklemore chose contestants Elijah and Carl (who is 9 or 10—yes, he was unclear on this), giving each 20 seconds to demonstrate their moves in front of “4000 strangers in some weird Masonic temple.” Memories made, crowds cheering, no “winner” announced because we were all just all celebrating life. Next, Macklemore added his own Pee-Wee dance and tossed Capri Sun juices to the audience.
The Gemini favorite “Glorious” offered the perfect bookend to close the main set. The three-set encore began with “Taillights” and Macklemore in a green A’s jacket. That was followed by a costume change into a Giants jersey and a heartfelt rendition of “Good Old Days.” At his urging, the audience turned on their cell phone lights for a starry effect. Lots of hand hearts represented the sentiment in the audience.
Mackelmore acknowledged that he has the “best job in the world” and doesn’t take the love and support of the audience for granted. He then introduced the stage performers adding personal accolades for each person: Ignabu drumming, Darius Christian tromboning, Kyla Moscovich trumpeting, Anna Matuszewski and Meka Vincini dancing, Camara Nichele vocalizing, Xperience singing (soulfully), and Nick Beeba DJing.
During the final song of the night “Can’t Hold Us,” confetti rained down on the venue, Macklemore gingerly scrambled from the stage onto the hands of the audience for a bit of crowd surfing—a physical representation of the emotional lift Macklemore feels from his fans. —Text: Patty Riek, photos: Jon Bauer