Midway through his set at the unseasonably windy SFS, Eminem silences his band and asks the crowd “Who here has ever had a problem with their parents?” So now is probably as good as time as any to say I have a huge problem with my Dad, who wouldn’t let me go to see the psycho rapper perform last time he was here, when I was fourteen and he was still America’s worst nightmare - rather than its guidance counsellor. Famously clean and straight, the Eminem we see tonight is a pale version of himself, which is a big deal given that he’s white already. He can still drop rhymes with the best of them and lord knows he’s not lacking in machismo, but my God, the songs. Somewhere along the path to oblivion Eminem lost two of the crucial factors that made him such an alluring proposition for kids of the ‘90s; he was both funny and crazy. Tonight, apart from brief glimpses into his back catalogue, he’s neither, falling back on exhausting self-help guides that rely far too heavily on bland pop choruses rather than blistering into them.
Leave it to Lil Wayne, then, to fly the flag for glorious excess. Having managed to tattoo every square inch of his perfectly formed frame and survive a shocking album full of auto-tuned guitar jams, Wayne has swagger and knows how to use it. His cuts from Tha Carters III and IV are delicious, rhymes ridiculous and nasal flow impeccable. Half of it is muffled by a sound system obviously designed for rockers rather than rappers, and he doesn’t help matters by having skateboarders on stage with him. But maybe that’s the point. There’s a reason Eminem tapped him for his latest record; despite his obvious delusions, Wayne is a self-made legend. ‘A Milli and ‘Mr Carter’ are both modern hip-hop classics, and they will be for a while yet if Weezy keeps this level of audacity up.
Things open well for Marshall Mathers, who disposes of two Recovery tunes before scaring the crap out of all the tweenagers with ‘Kill You’, a classic murder ballad (and Dr Dre beat) from his third LP. Whoever tells you that “I love the way you lie” is a better hook than “You don’t wanna fuck with Shady / ’Cause Shady, will fucking kill you” is either a ten year-old girl or a Mum, both of which surround us in the stands in alarming numbers. With the exception of a few cuts from Encore, the rest of the hour is filled with yawning chasms of BoB songs and Bruno Mars melodies, which, to paraphrase the once famous homophobe, are just really, really gay. And I don’t know what happened to ‘Stan’, the very reason I wasn’t allowed to see Eminem in 2001, but the Dido element has completely taken over the infanticide drama. You don’t want to be checking your watch this early. After what seems like an aeon of self-congratulatory MOR ‘hug–me‘ tunes (‘Forever’, ‘Lighters’, ‘I Need A Doctor’ -- that painful, bizarre ode to Dre being dead even though he’s still alive) that are completely at odds with the overweight hypeman’s continuous ‘motherfuckers’ and ‘make some noise’s, we finally get what we want. Sort of.
The minute ‘My Name Is’ drops, I promptly lose my shit. Here is the man we know and love, teetering on the edge of good taste, relentlessly verbose. But alas, it’s not to be. Cut short after one verse, the gem is smooshed into another favourite (‘The Real Slim Shady’) and then a third (‘Without Me.’) The whole thing is over in like, five minutes. I am crushed. I curse my father with everything I can muster, imagining these shows a decade ago, with hockey masks and chainsaws and death threats to Eminem’s ex-wife and mother. Instead a medley of the best songs of Eminem’s career give way to one of his worst ('I’m Not Afraid’) and I understand one of my favourite rabble-rousers is slipping away from me. A brief introduction of Royce Da 5’9” to blast through a track from their ill-received Bad Vs Evil LP is perhaps the only other glimpse of the Eminem we know. Until the encore, which is ‘Lose Yourself’, in honour of the kids who paid $300 to freeze their asses off in the mosh of the same name.
All this may sound like I had it out for Eminem, but on the contrary: I came to the show expecting to be wowed. I’ve respected him as a creative force for most of my adult life (and then some.) It’s not unfair to have high hopes for someone you know to be having the goods. But Eminem doesn’t belong to people like me anymore. He’s now firmly in the grasp of a whole new generation of fourteen year-olds, who don’t want to hear about Pamela Lee’s tits and impregnating Spice Girls and stapling homosexual schoolteacher’s genitalia to stacks of paper. They want to know how to triumph over adversity, in the face of all odds, and they want this upstanding citizen Mr. Mathers, to tell them how. Via Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Hayley Williams and their ilk. But anyone can do this. Not everyone can be as outrageous as Eminem. Where have all the bad boys gone?