The Moby impersonator, wearing a bald-head wig and a tracksuit, floated above the stage on a wire. "I'm a spaceman!" he said. "Look at me fly!" He rose out of view, and then a member of Eminem's crew D12 fired a shotgun. A dummy hit the stage with a thud.
Welcome to the fourth date of the 2002 Anger Management Tour: four and a half hours of music from Eminem, Papa Roach, Ludacris and Xzibit, with between-set turntable stunts by the X-ecutioners.
At the Nissan Pavilion outside Washington, D.C., Eminem delivered a supersize stadium version of his latest album, The Eminem Show. It may be the most elaborate hip-hop concert ever, boasting a circus set with a working Ferris wheel, a David Copperfield-like disappearing act, cartoons, costume changes, booming pyrotechnics and a giant mouth that attempts to swallow a backup singer. (The backdrop alone cost an estimated $700,000, according to one source.)
Eminem's set began with a slow-building video montage of censorious authority figures such as Senator Joe Lieberman and Second Lady Lynne Cheney labeling the rapper "disgusting" and worse. Slim Shady finally arrived to the loping beat of "Square Dance," descending from the top of the Ferris wheel as the video screen flickered with old rodeo footage and a gigantic "E." For the thundering "White America," Eminem donned a Stars and Stripes bandanna as an animated Uncle Sam gave the audience the middle finger. D12 brought some more energy onstage for "When the Music Stops" and the bleary-eyed pounder "Purple Pills."
According to his road mates, Eminem -- who has had his share of trouble in the past few years -- is keeping the drama onstage. "Em's mellowed out," says Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, who played the first Anger Management Tour, in 2000, with Em and Limp Bizkit. "He performs for an hour and fifteen minutes, and he's got a gangload of shit going on."
MC Proof of D12 doesn't see much in the way of maturation, though. "That motherfucker still can't keep a beat, and he can't dance," he says. In all seriousness, Proof adds, "He's grown. I used to help a lot with organizing shows, but now he does everything himself."
Shaddix is enjoying Papa Roach's role as the only major rock band on Anger Management. "We didn't know what the reaction was gonna be," he says. "It's not like a regular rock show where kids are pitting and going crazy, but we're rocking it hard." To that end, Papa Roach delivered a stripped-down show full of songs from their heavily metal new album, Lovehatetragedy. Shaddix jumped into the crowd during the frenetic opener, "M-80," and banged his mike against his forehead on "Life Is a Bullet."
Xzibit doesn't want to hear about any simple stage sets. "You're the shit when you have stuff that moves on your set," he says. "If you have stuff that doesn't stay in one place, you've graduated." For his part, he jumped out of a door underneath his DJ's booth before charging through a twenty-minute set that peaked with the Dr. Dre-produced "What's the Difference." Not to be outdone, Ludacris performed in front of a giant pit-bull bobble-head doll that pissed water on the audience as the charismatic MC bounced through hits such as "Roll Out" and "Area Codes."
A nasty women-hating moment played itself out in every hip-hop set in near-identical fashion. MCs asked the females in the crowd to speak up, and they were answered by friendly screams. Eminem responded with the seriously misogynistic "Superman," which includes the line "Bitch, you make me hurl." Xzibit and Ludacris followed the same script, saying hello to the ladies and then launching into "Bitch Please" and "Move Bitch," respectively.
Some of the sting was offset by moments of real connection with the audience: During Eminem's almost tender performance of "Stan," the crowd sang along to the Dido sample that forms the chorus. And all 25,000 fans in the sold-out amphitheater were on their feet when the chugging hit "Without Me" came near the end and when "My Dad's Gone Crazy" closed the show with the voice of Em's young daughter, Hailie. The only recent hip-hop show that has hit the road with the same aplomb was Dr. Dre's Up in Smoke in 2000 (which was co-headlined by Eminem).
"He's a motivation," says Ludacris of Em. "The man has a fucking Ferris wheel onstage -- what more can I say?"