As the arrival of rap’s poster boy approaches, Oxegen is buzzing. With many of the assembled masses having waited since Eminem’s controversial cancellation of his 2005 Slane date to see their hero, the area in front of the main stage is by far the busiest it’s been all weekend. Five years, to be fair, is some wait, and when Eminem struts on stage complete with brooding hoodie and a sizable posse in the form of D12, large parts of the crowd absolutely erupt.
To be honest, State weren’t entirely sure what to expect of Eminem, but it wasn’t this. The crowd down the front are going absolutely nuts for their man, as he reels off hit after hit of lyrically quirky smashes, taking in everything from the Slim Shady era to slower classics like -Stan’ and -Sing For The Moment’, along with a spattering of hits from his latest Recovery. It’s all played out in front of the flapping arms and nodding heads of an ecstatic crowd. During the slower ones, though Eminem’s live show starts to really unravel.
There’s no arguing that Eminem has a personality that fills the stage, but the way he produces his music in a live setting has serious flaws. It’s not that it’s bad, just that aside from his vocals and accompanying crew, there’s little else on offer beyond a drummer and guitarist tucked away in a corner. We rarely hear them. Of the stuff we do hear coming out of the speakers, at least 70% is made up of pre-recorded backing beats. There are also large patches of female vocals from the likes of Haley Williams and Rihanna, yet no female singer gets anywhere near the stage. Eminem’s vocals themselves, of course, are impressive. They’re cuttingly sharp and packing plenty of punch, but – in the slower tracks in particular – there just isn’t very much of it.
We can’t argue with what’s there – it’s so similar to the recorded forms its startling – but from a purely musical point of view this is not all that different to playing a CD in a stadium. So much so, in fact, that the knives have already come out over Eminem’s T In The Park performance, where fans are suggesting he mimed; the Oxegen set list was identical bar the addition of -Lose Yourself’ as a closer. We couldn’t commit ourselves 100% either way. Though we’re leaning towards Eminem rapping so well that you can’t tell; equally we wouldn’t be surprised to learn there’s a bit of a vocal -mix and mingle’ going on here.
Not that it matters to this crowd. Eminem eggs them on from stage front, with D12 offering the bassy backing lyrics and strutting around beside him. Even the -medley’ quality of some of the older moments (the set squeezes in just under 30 tracks) and the irritating tendency to punctuate his music with an endless stream of -say what?’ (thrown in about 10 times a song) and a self-important -oh shit’ every time a new track’s dropped into the mix can’t damper the stage-front love in. This is a spectacle, a performance that’s more about theatre and drama than it is about music. Not, of course, that it stops a single person from singing along to -that one from 8 Mile’ (the reference to -Lose Yourself’ near the back) or the superb -Airplanes’ at the top of their voices.
Do we enjoy it? Of course, we do, though we also sneak off to catch a few minutes of The Prodigy during a lull halfway through. There’s no doubting, though, that the crisp sound – that at times has precious little to do with what’s going on up on the stage – has the musical purist in us crying foul in a big way. In an entertainment sense, Eminem was a total triumph, though His performance tonight is not even a fraction of what we’re sure he could produce should he try to push the more musical limits of his live show.