Trying to resolve Eminem's contradictions is a loser's game. How do you reconcile the artist who asked the men in the audience at Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans Friday night to yell, "Fuck you, bitches" (and the women to answer, "Fuck you, assholes") with the guy who encored with the encouraging "Lose Yourself"? The scabrous pop culture critic with the MC who penned murder fantasy "3 a.m.," which opened the set with a bloody, Saw-like trailer? The audience at Voodoo didn't try; they were just thrilled he was there.
This year's Halloween weekend festival includes Kiss, Jane's Addiction, the Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz and Justice, who chain-smoked their way through a DJ set on a damp, biting Friday night. A downpour soaked the grounds of City Park and dropped the temperature 20 degrees, which cut down any walk-up traffic for one of Eminem's only 2009 shows, but it didn't hurt the gig. For the occasion, Eminem had a live band dressed in skeleton costumes that added muscle, particularly in the closing "Without Me." To further beef up the sound, he was joined onstage by a hype-man throughout, and D12 for part of the show. He took time out to salute the late Proof, "the real leader of the group" in one of the set's few tender moments.
The D12 segment also featured one of the more awkward moments as Em — who addresses his struggles with prescription pills openly on this year's Relapse — recalled "when we was fucked up". "When you was fucked up," his bandmates corrected, then Eminem started talking about a time in Amsterdam when he was so loaded he was under the table and speaking a new language. The skit seemed designed to put Eminem's drug problems in a "one of the boys" context, but the high-school-drama-class delivery undermined it.
That aside, Em onstage was, as usual, an electrifying presence, and he was in good voice and energy. The set's breakdown slowed its momentum, though. There were Relapse songs, D12 songs, a hits medley — all separated by musical interludes while he changed T-shirts or took a quick break. But the audience was into the individual parts, rapping along and lost in the moment by the time he broke out "Lose Yourself."
• Eminem Honors Proof at Free "Relapse" Show in Detroit