Shady rules

Anger Management Tour 3 Sleep Train, Wed., July 20

Eminem is not retiring. I know this because, in the midst of pointing out a prophetic tabloid story about the “moon exploding” during his recent Sleep Train performance (and loudly exposing the headline’s double entendre while exposing his fit, hairless ass), rap’s golden boy scoffed at the suggestion as more gossip-rag fodder.

This is a very good thing because in the world of mainstream rap, E is one the few worthwhile choices. This was my first Anger Management Tour, as well as my first big hip-hop concert, and things went pretty much as I’d expected: Eminem ruled, and the rest of the bill played strictly by the rules. Like other entrenched marketing niches—Christian pop, modern country—"MTV rap” has a predictable set of rules, and on this warm summer night 50 Cent and G-Unit didn’t vary from formula.

With an enormous decapitated Statue of Liberty head on the stage behind them, the crew grabbed crotches non-stop and mumbled “unh!” and “yeah!” a hundred times through their short set as the barely audible melodies of Fiddy’s hits, “In Da Club” and “Candy Shop,” hid beneath the unbelievably huge (but damn impressive) bass pulses resonating through the packed amphitheater.

And, with the exception of the fun and tight D12 crew (yeah, I was pourin’ my 40 out!), the cameos that popped up throughout Eminem’s set that followed—Obie Trice, Stat Quo, et al.—provided the same damp blanket of uninspired mugging and angry F-bombs.

Eminem’s set opened with a scene on the stadium monitor of him dressed in an oversized navy-blue suit, anxiously fiddling with a concealed handgun before angrily taking the stage. Much like the scenario that weaves through his latest release, Encore, the drama continued throughout the set, as each break escalated the immediacy as the troubled star signed a letter apologizing to fans and plinked rounds into his gun (though live he eventually turned the gun on himself instead of the audience as on the CD).

Just as with the album, “Evil Deeds” kicked off one of the most immediate and thrilling performances I’ve ever witnessed. Eminem’s impossible cadence (aided at times by the constant pre-recorded chorus track) and unique melodies and the seamless transitions that bring them together were wonderful as he touched on nearly every hit, plus half of his latest album.

His skills not withstanding, there’s a special magnetism that makes the difference with Eminem. It’s that “Lose Yourself” sentiment—a combo of a desperate, don’t-give-a-fuck individualism and an at-all-costs commitment to your dreams—that anyone who’s experienced regret or seemingly insurmountable life obstacles can be inspired and rejuvenated by. And that feeling was palpable, as 20,000-strong aggressively waved right arms in unison, singing along with the 8-Mile soundtrack’s signature song for the night’s finale.