By Mark Guarino
All eyes are on the third installment of the “Anger Management” tour. This summer, the rock bands that once rapped are off the ticket and in their place are rappers who refuse to rock. There were so many rappers onstage at the Tweeter Center Monday — some superstars, many not — that the industry is keeping close watch on this tour to see if a bill of nothing but rap can be profitable on a summer amphitheater circuit crowded with classic rockers, metal veterans, rodeo country and skateboard punk.
As the tradition goes, rap thrives more comfortably in clubs. Unlike rock and country artists who make most of their living on the road, rappers generate a substantial proportion of their sales through videogame and movie soundtracks as well as endless product endorsements, from clothing to mineral water. According to Billboard, in the past five years, no rap tour has ever cracked the top 10 chart of annual grossing tours.
But Eminem carries major weight and, as the last few years have demonstrated, so do the artists on the roster of his label, Shady Records. 50 Cent, his first and still his most successful protégé, helped bulk up this bill, which makes sense considering that 50’s second album remains the best-selling album this year.
50 Cent boxed for room on a crowded stage shared with G-Unit, the collective that grows more ridiculous and repetitive with each release of its member’s debut solo albums. Young Buck, Lloyd Banks and others helped pump hands in the air all night, but the competition for the spotlight made 50’s set a haze. Not much original from any of these bulked-up braggarts, all hustling individual solo albums incessantly. After awhile, even 50 looked annoyed. He is probably the most limited and uncomfortable rapper to ever perform live and if it weren’t for his rags-to-riches story (soon the basis of a Hollywood film), bulletproof wardrobe and toned abs, 50 would be another party rapper like Lil Jon.
Speaking of, Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz, opened the show during daylight hours. The producer and profitable advocate of the shoutout “Yeah!” hyped the crowd in front of a stage size cartoon of his own likeness. It was accurate right down to the gold teeth but, with roadies jiggling its head and arms while hidden, it worked harder than the real thing. Lil Jon mainly bounced from left to right in barking cheerleader mode to prerecorded music. He deserves major props though for ending his set popped up near the back of the house where he played strictly to the lawn.
But as 50 explained at the end of his set: “I work for Eminem.” No kidding. Compared to Eminem’s large-scale, slick and sophisticated production, the first two sets stood like shantytowns. Here’s where the money went, a two-tiered funhouse that doubled as a video screen. Even so, take that away and it would still be like comparing diamonds to duds — Eminem was the only rapper Monday who wasn’t in hustler mode and, when connecting with the crowd, he was such a natural.
Not to say his fetish for celebrity death wishes wasn’t cured — obvious when he stuck his head in the toilet in response to faux come-ons from Mariah Carey. But Eminem has largely grown up. Past mega hits like “Stan,” “Kill You” and “The Way I Am” were relegated to snippets inside a melody and even a match-up with 50 Cent felt more like quickie marketing than a real investment.
He stood apart for his newfound political conscience. “Toy Soldiers,” with its kiddie chorus and incoming helicopters, chilled. As did “Mosh,” which gave voice to American soldiers in Iraq complete with a Bush imposter giving them the middle finger salute.
Eminem was also the only one on the bill who successfully worked the mosh pit, stopping the show to perform a solo history of hip-hop’s evolution. In one gesture, he took over 30,000 people down to club level, a type of heart-to-heart connection many tried before losing it in the white noise.