J. Brady McCollough
Portrait of the artist as a young dork.
(Courtesy of Interscope Records)

Midway through his 90-minute set on Saturday night, Eminem apologized for some “motherfucking technical difficulties” after battling malfunctioning sound and video equipment for much of the night. The motherfucking technical difficulties were just one of many problems to plague Em’s homecoming show at Detroit’s Ford Field, on a night that saw lackluster performances by openers Missy Elliott and 50 Cent, shoddy stadium sound and the occasional rowdy fan.

But the sold-out crowd of 45,000, loaded with suburbanites and noticeably lacking teenage fans, couldn’t have cared less about faulty equipment, bad sound or disorderly neighbors. They were there for Eminem, and just to be in the same building as the Real Slim Shady was enough.

The show began punctually at 7:30 with sunlight still pouring in from beneath the Ford Field roof. With the red curtain still drawn, cries of “Aw shit!” boomed from the loudspeaker, announcing Missy Elliott’s arrival to the half-empty stadium. During Missy’s 30-minute performance, there wasn’t much performance to speak of. Between abbreviated, half-hearted attempts at “Work It” and “Get Ur Freak On” and a pointless surprise appearance by R&B singer Monica, who performed her own “So Gone,” Elliott spent the bulk of her time awkwardly bribing the crowd with autographed sneakers and kind words for the city of Detroit. After a bizarre, half-hearted tribute to late Detroiter Aaliyah, Elliott concluded her set with, “Detroit is the hottest place on the goddamn planet.”

Not quite, but hip-hop Rookie of the Year 50 Cent did his damnedest to make it so. The curtains parted to a mock-up of the New York City skyline as a Frank Sinatra look-alike introduced 50 to the crowd on the video monitors flanking the stage. Sinatra’s own “New York, New York” was accompanied by video of an idealized New York until Old Blue Eyes got capped and was left for dead.

Images of Sinatra’s New York were replaced by scenes of violence, drug use and police brutality as 50 and his posse emerged from backstage. The now-full stadium erupted as 50 and his G-Unit lackeys, decked out in Joey Harrington jerseys, charged their way through a 45-minute set full of hits like “In Da Club” and “Wanksta,” each punctuated by a gunshot, as 50 slowly peeled off layers of clothing and tossed them into the crowd until he was down to his bare chest. 50 and G-Unit’s three-way attack and shouted vocals made every song into a flat banger, from the ordinarily quiet love song “21 Questions” to the Caribbean-infused “P.I.M.P.”

After a 45-minute intermission, the lights went down and the video monitors flickered to life with an introduction featuring Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Kid Rock as Em’s whiskey-drinking, white trash chauffeur. At the conclusion of the video, a customized Shady Records Hummer slowly made its way through the general admission crowd and up to the twisted carnival stage, which was decked out with ferris wheel, circus tent and giant clown face.

When Eminem finally emerged from the Humvee to the pounding beat of “Square Dance,” he seemed bulletproof — his delivery was crisp and strong.

All was well until “Kill You,” when Em’s audio track dropped out a la Milli Vanilli, leaving the rapper staring blankly into space until the track started up again without him.
It was never entirely clear if he was lip-syncing or just rapping over a pre-recorded track, but it was clear that the audience didn’t care either way.

The high energy early in the set dropped off when Em’s D-12 toadies and Obie Trice joined him onstage for some tag-team rapping, featuring the disgustingly shirtless lyrics of Bizarre.

Throughout his set, Eminem marked the occasion with references to his hometown, the first of which came during “Square Dance” with the line “Go to Detroit and do a show there!”

Em was later joined onstage by 50 Cent for 50’s “Patiently Waiting,” which was highlighted by a high-stepping dance from 50’s adorable son Marquise.

Despite D-12’s presence and the occasional lull, Eminem kept it real for his hometown crowd. There were no attacks on Ja Rule and Benzino or harsh words for his mother, and Erik Everlast didn’t show up to defend his rep. It was just a man and his microphone.

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