Mac Miller, ‘Live From Space’ and Beyond

‘Live From Space’ is freewheeling catharsis in motion.
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“It ain't no party like aristocratic parties / Yeah, yo, yo, yo, oh / Said, ain't no party like aristocratic parties” —Mac Miller, “S.D.S.”

Sometimes, we just have to scream until we feel better. Sometimes we just have to do the paltry thing. No matter how eloquently I dice it, really we’re all just a mess of lightning bugs in mason jars vying for freedom. What I mean to say is, everyone’s all mixed up all the time. Screaming helps to stop the seething. Screaming with someone, with thousands of someones, also works wonders. That is the ultimate function of the live album: a communal shouting match against ourselves; one we always win. The function of Mac Miller’s Live From Space, then, is to bring us not only closer to Mac through a string of live performances and B-sides but to bring us closer to that freedom of expression.

Mac Miller’s studio albums all capture potent emotional arcs, but Live From Space is freewheeling catharsis in motion. The album, released December 17, 2013, is as an absolutely ballistic offering, presented as two-thirds live recordings done during the Space Migration Tour with The Internet and one-third Watching Movies with the Sound Off bonus tracks. For all intents and purposes, Live From Space is the deluxe album of our dreams, where we not only get additional music but an outpouring of energy that would otherwise have never graced wax.

Take the live rendition of “Watching Movies,” where Mac Miller, snarling into the microphone, goes from young man to Teen Wolf extra. “I love performing and we have a show that’s different and it is good live and there’s maybe a couple songs where you can’t understand what I’m saying, like watching Lil B, because there’s too much screaming, but other than that, it breathes new life into the record,” he told Noisey in 2013.

Understanding Mac Miller is eons from the point. Sure, Mac’s delivery becomes undecipherable at best. Sure, he probably invented mumble rap while onstage. But allow me to also call a spade a spade: Live From Space is not meant to be deciphered. You’re meant to rage alone in your living room and pull a muscle to this record. The live version of “Watching Movies” is the ultimate decompression, where you can feel the steam rising off Mac’s body, bursting through the vents, and blasting through your speakers.

What better way to free the lightning bugs and revel in our pent-up eccentricities than to the eddy-like drumming on “S.D.S.”? How else to lose ourselves in the flushed emotions of “REMember” and “Youforia” than with the sallow-beating live ambiance? There’s a husky magic to Mac Miller getting all spittle and red-faced when performing “I Am Who Am” at five-times speed. The smoked-out ease of “Bird Call” becomes wonderfully beveled and sly with the addition of humor and live bass.

Really, all of Live From Space is a cleansing vortex. Every call back to Tay Walker is a moment of precious camaraderie. The continual transforming of “Best Day Ever” into a shimmering and enchanting record reminds us that Mac Miller is always innovating and thusly shapeless. Even the incessant “God damn!”s at the end of an eight-minute remake of Macadelic’s “The Question” feel tugging and consequential. Mac brings us deep inside the venue, gives us the space to catch our breath, and offers up some necessary perspective: look at all of these people right there with you. Space by design is cold and desolate, but this Space is predicated upon warmth and community. God damn.

Recording during various tour stops, too, gives the record some unexpected resonance. Hearing the various cities shouted out across the album gives it a tangibility that I find myself craving more and more as I continuously come to terms with Mac’s death. As people move to be regarded in the abstract, something as simple as Mac announcing, “San Diego, California. We gon' start this one like this,” before launching into a frenzied performance of “I Am Who Am” gives his legacy one of many waypoints. A “Mac Miller wuz here” sign, if you will.

Then we have the unsung heroes of Live From Space: the five bonus cuts that hit the floor during the making of Watching Movies with the Sound Off. Like much of Mac’s music post-tragedy, these five songs are exceptionally gutting. Take the hook of “Eggs Aisle,” where a distant Mac Miller calls out: “Be safe homie / In this life or the next life / I'ma see ya.” The pain here is self-explanatory and thick, the layers difficult to wade through. Mac is the speaker, and he is the subject, and we are the speakers, and we are the subjects, too. Everything always in flux and gratifying.

We also have some staple points of legacy-building. For one, “Black Bush” exists in a special pantheon of Mac Miller songs that sound like nothing else he has released. We can liken it to the basic motif of 2014’s Faces, but even so, we would be missing the mark. The alien quality of the track, the haunting understatement, it is all very effective and one-of-a-kind, very “product of a witch’s spell.” Mac brings a brooding gravitas to the track, sounding like a man apart from the waking world.

Meanwhile, “Life” is a clear Faces prelude, sounding like the mood board for the “Happy Birthday," “Wedding," “Funeral” three-piece. The groaning delivery of “We can talk about all the things we should have done / All the arguments that you probably would have won / But I’m stubborn, baby, you knew that when you told me you loved me” will be matched only by dragging first verse of “Wedding”: “The smile that she faking is tragic, hate looking at it / That magic I tried to grasp it, she's had it with the dramatics / Fantasizing love so classic, attracted to what she got up in her attic / Can we mind fuck?

Mac had an innate ability to write from the position of someone in a perpetual state of without, of someone surrounded both by beauty and degradation. He could parse the rot from the fruit like few writers could. We love him for it.

His ability to arrange music, too, appears unmatched on the bonus tracks. “In the Morning” is a snapshot of the Mac Miller connective tissue magic. Working with Syd and Thundercat, the trio made a staple multi-genre, multi-artist, incredibly devised piece of music. “Ideas never stop flying through him,” Syd said during a 2013 interview with Complex. “Me and Thundercat wrote the hook to [“In the Morning”] and we just did right there. We recorded some more live bass over it. It’s really one of those songs that just happened in the night. We left his house at seven the next morning and continued about our lives. Until then we were literally in the dark just slaving over this one song. The whole song happened in four to five hours.”

That’s the sum of Mac Miller’s creative ethos if there ever were a way to sum it.

Finally, we have “Earth.” Obviously a love song, I’ll still be damned if there isn’t a better catch-all for Mac Miller’s music that the smooth declaration: “Your beauty handed me my mind back.” If not an apt label for the function of his discography, then at the least, this lyric breaks down the excellence of Live From Space. As we know, Mac Miller found his shelter on the stage, and across this live album we were treated to the undoing and rebirth of a man night after night. The beauty is the music, and by proxy, the mind is also beautiful. One nurtures the other, and we nurture ourselves. That’s the Most Dope family in motion, too. 

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