Friday night at New Orleans' Voodoo Music Experience, even chilly temps and torrents of rain couldn't keep the soggy pre-Halloween crowd sexy nurses caked in mud, shivering bunnies and cops from sticking around for Eminem's 9:30 PM closing set.
This was, after all, the rapper's only public gig promoting his latest album, Relapse, and his ghoulish rhymes and ominous storylines were a perfect fit for the dampened holiday mood.
A video montage that kicked off Em's set cast him in the role of murderous psychopath, starting with text that described him as a criminally insane lunatic on the loose, "last seen in the woods near New Orleans in October." This dissolved into quick-cut images of gory body parts and handheld footage of the rapper running, Blair Witch-style, shirtless through the woods. Then it switched to footage of hypnotically swirling prescription pills -- lots and lots and lots of them.
Em opened hard with "3 a.m.," and after only a brief greeting -- "I'm back. What the fuck?" -- brought out his backing band and crew, D12. There was a shout-out to the late D12 rapper Big Proof, and a nice nod to New Orleans bounce -- regional hip-hop that never seems to make it out of the city -- at the opening of "Cleaning Out My Closet."
The crowd's tone and energy level was dramatically divided, and not in the old, Marshall Mathers/Slim Shady split-personality way.It was more like, "Eh, this is cool," during most of the Relapse tracks, switching, when Em whipped out the material from the first three albums, to, "Holy crap, that's right, that shit was awesome!"
Maybe the mood wavered because Relapse is such an uncomfortable album. Em's trademarks as an MC, besides an almost supernaturally fast and tricky flow, are healthy doses of vocalized self-hatred coupled with bare-all self-revelation almost to the point of TMI -- and Relapse is painfully personal and scarily violent.
Or maybe it was that the Jumbotron screen fizzled and died early on and the sound was as uneven and muddy as the rain-soaked festival grounds.
Still, the songs that closed the set -- "Superman," "Without Me," "The Real Slim Shady," and "Kill You," from the first three albums -- and the encore, "Lose Yourself," sent the crowd into a fist-pumping frenzy.
"Lose Yourself," which is hip-hop's "Eye of the Tiger," made even long-dead zombies rise up out of their weather-induced stupor.
In the end -- cilly rains and technical difficulties aside -- New Orelans' verdict was clear: Shady's back!