Marshall Mathers last stepped onto the Reading Main Stage 12 years ago, when he topped the bill in 2001. A lot has changed since then. That was before he released ‘The Eminem Show’, which shifted 10 million copies and helped the rapper towards the 32.2 million mark. That makes him the artist to have sold more than any other in the last decade – even ahead of The Beatles. But could the man author Zadie Smith once described as a “word technician”, now 40, still match up to the 28-year-old who was arguably in his prime? Here's how the two shows, a decade apart, shaped up.
As had been rumoured before the show, British singer Dido arrived onstage halfway through the set to sing her chorus from ‘Stan’ – and it was one of the biggest singalongs of the night. In 2001 he was joined by both his crew, D12, and Marilyn Manson, who had performed just before him, for ‘Way I Am’.
Last time round Eminem burst onto the stage wearing a hockey mask, wielding a chainsaw – but other than that it was essentially just him and a DJ. The end result was underwhelming. It’s tough for a lone stage presence to carry a headline set, even one as gifted as Eminem. This time, he’s matured as a performer – backed by a full band and punctuated by the occasional firework, he felt every bit the global star.
Most bands returning after a 12 year absence could realistically expect to see a sea of greying hair and expanding paunches in front of them. Eminem still managed to pull a young (and massive) crowd. Recent tracks like Rihanna collaboration ‘Love The Way You Lie’ and the Bruno Mars-featuring ‘Lighters’ were some of the best received of the night. This didn’t stop Em looking awkward and clutching his baggy shorts whenever the speakers played a hook from anyone who wasn’t onstage – no wonder he was so keen to bring on Dido.
The ‘Lose Yourself’ moment
Eminem’s encore proved to be one of those spine-tingling, goosebump-inducing festival moments. Perhaps that was the biggest difference from his set last time: he hadn’t written this anthem, penned on the set of 2002’s ‘8 Mile’. As much as his medley of hits from that period describes himself as being “fucked up” (‘My Name Is’, ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Without Me’) this is the tune which will be reverberating around his fans' skulls as they exit the main arena. A masterstroke to end on it.
Despite the long wait since his last LP, this was a performance that showed perhaps Eminem isn’t past his prime after all. It will only ramp up the expectations for his next album. He was, of course, recently referenced in the same breath as Jay Z and Nas when Kendrick Lamar rapped about the pantheon of MCs. Tonight proved he’s still up there. No better words to leave you with than his: “Guess who’s back, back again. Shady’s back.” Tell a friend.