MUSIC| Mac Miller shows love at First Avenue

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About a year and a half ago, I came across a video titled “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza.” My initial thought? “This can’t be a serious attempt at hip-hop.” But after I pressed play and soaked up the authentic lyrics, the neighborhood visual, and the jazzy old school beat, my annoyance changed to appreciation.

On October 18 the city of Pittsburgh—and clouds of marijuana smoke—invaded First Avenue nightclub. No, it wasn’t a Wiz Khalifa concert. This time, hometown and Rostrum Records labelmate Mac Miller rocked the stage hyping a massive crowd that filled the sold-out space.

Bursting into flashing lights and fog with a full beard and tattoo sleeve, 19-year-old Mac Miller—known to fans as an underage drinker and whimsical rapper with dope beats— wasted absolutely no time turning up the energy level. Faux street lights, a park bench and a backdrop painted with a blue stream and brownstone shops emphasized his tour and upcoming album title: Blue Slide Park.

“It’s kind of funny, I have the best job in the world. But everywhere I go people say, ‘Mac Miller, all you rap about is girls, alcohol and weed,’” he told the crowd. “If you listen, there’s some other words in there, I promise.”

As he performed standout tracks “Wake Up,” “Live Free,” “I’ll Be There,” and nearly his entire K.I.D.S. mixtape, he ran, spun, and jumped across every inch of the stage enticing fans to participate by delivering synchronized, speedy arm waves. Every other song, members of his friend-entourage would join in on the madness, livening the show even more.

With no shortage of spacey, bass thumping, classic hip-hop sounds, opening acts Casey Veggies and The Come Up offered similar music, complimenting Mac Miller’s indie theme.

Breaking away from his consistent hip-hop genre, Mac surprised fans by showing off his guitar and singing skills. During song hooks—more often than expected, and whenever he wanted to—Mac Miller sang with as much passion and blood in the face as Blink-182’s lead singer Tom DeLonge.

“I’m a hip-hop dude, I love hip-hop,” Miller yelled out. “But if you take anything from this show, please learn to love all music. All genres.”

Strumming chords of rapper 50 Cent’s “Wanksta” and “Wonderwall” by Oasis, Miller showed a side rarely seen in Internet videos where nothing but fun and the fast life of touring is showcased. Rapping a verse from the heartfelt song “Poppy,” dedicated to his grandfather, he thanked fans for putting lighters and cell phones in the air.

“When I used to do that song, people would just talk through it so I appreciate the respect,” Miller said. Just when the crowd thought his stamina finally dwindled, he fired back full steam pumping out “Smile Back,” “All Around the World,” and “Donald Trump.”

As if the crowd was made up of friends he had known for years, Miller joked and told stories about his grassroots music struggle. He filled pauses between songs with words expressing fan appreciation; stressing the predetermined dream of making music he’s living out. Judging by his performance, those expressions of gratitude were genuine. Drenched in sweat, Mac Miller gave a 110 percent effort to who he says are the most loyal fans.

Instead of just the one thumb up that is his signature, I give Mac’s Blue Slide Park Tour two thumbs up.

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.