Putting together a concert set list must be tough for musicians who’ve had lengthy careers. If an artist has had more than 20 hits or so, some aren’t gonna make the cut, and no matter which you choose to leave out, it will be some fan’s favorite.
For artists who are still active, that’s another degree of difficulty. There is an added challenge in trying to incorporate new songs that longtime fans might not be as familiar with or like as much as the classics. Each of those newer songs is going to cost one of the old favorites a spot.
What’s a “legacy” artist to do?
For his concert at Aloha Stadium on Friday night, rap legend Eminem chose to do what so many artists have come to do: squeeze as many songs in as possible by trimming a minute here and a minute there from many of them. The result was a 90-minute set stuffed with 31 songs.
The verdict? Well, it certainly made for an entertaining and fast-paced show that covered almost every song fans would want to hear (no “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” or “Crack a Bottle”), but it also resulted in some moments that left the die-hards surely wanting.
It’s one thing, for example, to abridge minor hits such as “Sing for the Moment” and “Like Toy Soldiers,” but — to cite the most puzzling example — to cut a classic like “Stan” in half when the narrative is the point of the song? It’s perplexing and dismissive of one of Eminem’s most important and beloved songs. That rain fell during “Stan,” which would have perfectly complemented the climactic and thunderstruck third verse makes it even more of a missed opportunity.
The choice to cut short some of his best songs aside — a sort of medley of his jokey trinity of “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me” came off a little better but was still frustrating — Em proved a commanding presence and showed he hasn’t lost a beat off his prodigious flow.
In a full-bodied version of “Rap God,” he blistered through the section that pays homage to J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic” to the delight of the crowd. Backed by DJ Alchemist and about 10 live musicians — including a string section — he paced the stage with supreme confidence while also sharing the spotlight with some very able performers.
Singer Skylar Grey was the unsung hero, showing off her versatility by filling in for Rihanna on “Love the Way You Lie” and “The Monster,” Beyonce on “Walk on Water” and Dido on “Stan.”
Hype men are a controversial part of many rap shows, but Eminem’s, Mr. Porter, was worked in deftly, delivering in place of collaborators such as Dr. Dre when needed without being intrusive the rest of the time.
The contributions of Grey and Mr. Porter answered the question of how Em would incorporate the many songs of his that feature other artists. He also did his chunks of two features on other artists’ songs — Nicki Minaj’s “Majesty” and Drake’s “Forever.” (Given that the latter references “rockin’ stadiums” and macadamia nuts, this would seem to be a no-brainer.)
Longtime Eminem ally Royce da 5’9” (whom Em called one of the five greatest rappers) also came on for a midshow cameo, doing a piece of “Caterpillar” solo. Eminem did not deliver his verse from that song, but did re-emerge to join Royce for a truncated “Fast Lane,” from their album together as Bad Meets Evil.
Royce is continuing on with Em for five dates Down Under (dubbed the “Rapture Tour”). Hawaii fans had a rare chance to get an artist starting a tour rather than ending it, but the show was tight (aside from some muddy sound early on) and did not feel like it had rough edges to be smoothed.
As of now, Em has not announced any gigs beyond Australia and New Zealand, so it may also be a rare instance of Hawaii getting the only American performance of the year by a major artist. The buzz of such an opportunity was palpable, as most of the crowd of 20,000-plus stood for the entire show and shook the stadium on several occasions. The Aloha Stadium crew seems to have things down after a spate of shows in the past few months. One hopes more acts will be brought in this summer, when the weather that has plagued several of the recent concerts is less likely to be an issue.
Besides Em’s collaborators, fans got a bonus with a couple of rising rappers as openers.
Sheck Wes is early in his career and doesn’t have much catalog to work off of, but was solid in about a half-hour set, with the crowd elevating for his smash “Mo Bamba.”
Logic played — and talked — for nearly an hour. With a larger body of work to draw from, and a more established following, he got more attention from the crowd. The bespectacled rapper did not waste that equity, his high-speed delivery elicited roars from the crowd. He lit up the stadium with a shortened version of his suicide hotline awareness hit “1-800-273-8255” and offered up his first live performance of his new single, “Keanu Reeves.”
He also delivered an early chicken-skin moment when he autographed the Bobby Tarantino jacket he was wearing for a fan he found out had gotten him to sign a cap a few years ago in New Mexico and who had flown in for the show.
That was just one example of his ability to connect with the audience, which can be tough for an opening act, given that almost everyone was there to see the headliner. He gushed about meeting Em backstage, showing he’s a fan just like everyone else in the house.
Logic closed strong with “Everyday” and declared, “Hawaii, I love you. Can’t wait to come back here and sell this (esteemed venue) out myself.”