Eminem @ T in the Park, Balado near Kinross, Scotland, 10/07/2010 (***)
live review for The Skinny
Five years after his last scheduled UK gig -- and seven years since he last actually performed in Scotland -- it's teasing to have to wait 40 minutes past showtime for Eminem to finally take the stage to close Saturday's Main Stage lineup. But when Marshall Mathers arrives, it's a relief to see him still youthful and full of fight; considering the drug problems and the rare public appearances, my subconscious feared he’d turn up in a string vest and pyjama bottoms, or unshaven and greying at least. But seven years away haven’t aged him at all, physically; artistically, it’s a different story. Growing up is a difficult subject to navigate, for any person or any artist, but it’s extra hard for artists who have a stage persona and a real personality as messily intertwined as Eminem’s. So, just as a new greatest hits release from Em would sound strangely incoherent, tonight's set contained songs as if written by a few different Slim Shadys.
His earliest persona -- the funny one -- is who everyone’s here to see, but he leaves most of that for the end. The first half of the show is almost entirely Recovery and Relapse tracks, plus a three-song set with D12, and it’s underwhelming for all but the Stans on the barrier, frequently shown on the giant screens reciting every word. Presumably the cause of the delayed start was technical, and technical problems with Em’s wireless mic persist - entire verses are lost while his sidekick MC is fully audible. When it comes to Stan -- the song -- Em’s mic problems frustratingly remain: after the crowd sings along to Dido’s intro, the first verse is a washout.
The mic is working by the time Em wants to talk to the crowd, pitting all the boys and girls against each other in a noise-making contest, and encouraging all the boys to turn to the nearest girl and say “fuck you bitch!”. That’s Slim Shady talking, but then comes the real head-fucking sequence of the evening: he asks the girls “how many of you ladies feel beautiful tonight?”, dedicates the next song to every girl in the crowd, and sings “don’t let them say you ain’t beautiful”. Minutes later, the girls are singing along to Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie hook, as Eminem threatens to tie her to a bed and set the house on fire.
Beautiful is on Eminem’s 2009 comeback album Relapse, but who is it by? Is it by a fake Slim Shady? Who was Kim, by? Is Beautiful by the real Marshall Mathers? Is Beautiful by the same artist as Kim? Is Beautiful by the same artist as Not Afraid?
Well yes, those two seem to go together: they’re both morose, self-pitying ballads that look for strength and hope but find cliche instead. Not Afraid, tonight’s second-last song, is a power ballad that sets Eminem up like an inspirational moral guide: “Everybody come take my hand, we'll walk this road together through the storm” and so on. What happened to “you can suck my dick if you don't like my shit”? That was only 20 minutes ago.
He created a monster, but it was a fully formed and living monster: as writer Jeff Weiss put it, he was “the id of every 16-year old boy in America”. Now what is he? A hotchpotch of moods, attitudes and beliefs: a normal adult? It’s hard to believe.
Eminem closed his T set with a furious Lose Yourself, but it was the other song to sandwich Not Afraid, Without Me, that was most revealing. 18 months after Stan, his comeback single declared an intention to be provocative: “...we need a little controversy, cos it feels so empty without me”. Now on another comeback, Eminem provoked boos from the T crowd whenever he addressed it as “Edinburgh”. It’s a reasonable mistake to make -- we’re well within a Ryanair definition of Edinburgh, at least -- but some fans weren’t happy. “Oi Eminem!” a little lass behind me yelled. “I’m fae Glenrothes!”.
Remember when Eminem was intentionally provocative?