By Michael Traversa
So The Monster Tour finally opened with two sold out shows at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It all starts with a short film that depicts Eminem as a modern Hannibal Lecter and Rihanna as the savior coming to his rescue. When the two finally appear on stage, lifted up by two moving platforms, Eminem is still tied up to an hospital bed. Yup, you know this. When those two came together for a massive stadium tour I just knew there will be humor and irony along with the music. Eminem in particular is a master of sarcasm. Friday night he even recited a whole monologue from the movie Superbad, which was hilarious.
In the beginning they go through some of the songs that features more than one voice on the track (Numb, No Love) followed by the most obvious choice for starter aimed at inciting the crowd: (we are gonna) Run this town (tonight)! Then the show appears to be divided into two clear blocks, a full show from each, with a few forays into each others. Basically Rihanna’s show followed pretty much the setlist of her Diamonds World Tour. And unfortunately it suffers from the same problems I pointed out for the Diamonds tour back then: only snippets of many favorite hits, too much use of backing tracks for the chorus, heavy on the hip hop tracks from Unapologetic, while other songs from the same album are better. For various reasons (Pasadena’s curfew? Better show flow?) she eliminated three songs from night 1, among those Man Down which is one of my ultimate favorites. In fact I’ll go as far as saying that she should make a whole reggae record, more in synch with traditional music of the Barbados. One of those songs was replaced by Only Girl, which she did not perform on night 1. In the final count it comes down to two songs difference and one substitute.
Rihanna seemed confident, seductive and held everybody’s attention in the palm of her hand. She appeared playful and happy to sing on every song, despite some criticism. I can see how somebody from afar may think of lip synching. Both Rihanna and Eminem sang live but, especially in Rihanna’s case, there was a heavy use of backing tracks. When it’s her voice on the chorus coming out of a backing track, (something that a backup singer could do instead), it produces a strange effect. When she pulls the mike away to let the people sing, her voice can still be heard. This is something that unfortunately started with the last tour, but she is still singing all the verses live.
The highlights were obviously the joint performances and it was remarkable how Love The Way You Lie Part II and the original were blended seamlessly into one so to pass the baton from one act to the other. I suspect Eminem did his average setlist from his latest tour as well. Eminem is a riot, he is like a crazy ball, never still in one spot, he keeps jumping left and right. He too played along his image, attacking the songs aggressively, and joking in the more ironic ones, especially the early hits of the first LP. Well Mr Mathers, you are a Rap God. Funny how his hype man Mr Porter pointed out at wasted people in the front to which Mr Mathers replied, “Just because I can’t do drugs doesn’t mean you can’t“. Also in the case of Eminem I didn’t like some songs being truncated. In Stan, for example, he cut out the whole final verse (the part where Stan drives off the cliff and Shady’s response to the letter). Nevertheless it sounded even more haunting with Rihanna on the chorus. The choice of Airplanes over Lighters was odd, since neither one of them penned the song, but I guess Eminem’s verse on the second version of the tune was enough to grant a spot in the setlist.
The bottom line is whenever they shared the stage the monster came alive. In the end they alternated their most influential hits (We found love, Lose yourself) leading into the titular song, complete of fireworks and flipping the bird.