London Brixton Academy

...each society gets the (anti) heroes it deserves...

Towards the end of a day when anti-capitalist rioters attempt to bring the global economic system to its knees by laying waste to the McDonald’s restaurant nearest to Parliament, then daubing rude words on Winston Churchill’s statue, an equally quaint form of rebellion takes place in the district of London where, almost 20 years ago, the people rioted for real.

“Do you guys like drugs?” enquires [a]Eminem[/a], a touch rhetorically seeing as the air is thoroughly permeated with herbal cigarette emissions. The little man wearing very big trousers then proceeds to detail a possibly fictitious encounter between himself and British customs the previous day, during which he was relieved of a variety of controlled substances. “They took my weed!” (Boo!) “My mushrooms!” (Bigger boo!) “My Ecstasy!” (Massive boo with banging bells on!) “But there was one thing they couldn’t stop! They couldn’t stop my… MIDDLE FINGER!!! Lemme see those MIDDLE FINGERS!!!” And lo, the inhabitants of the Academy go digitally hardcore. Later on, [a]Eminem[/a] leads us in a synchronised mass rendering of the word ‘fuck’. Eeeh, it’s all good clean fun. The mums and dads anxiously looking out for their little dears at 10.30pm on Stockwell Road can rest assured of that.

[a]Eminem[/a] may be many things, but stupid is not one of them. He wants for nothing other than possibly spiritual wellbeing and credibility from a sceptical public who still tend to equate white guys rapping with Vanilla Ice. Get Dr Dre on your side, however, and credibility becomes less of a problem. Get Dre to make his first ever live appearance in the UK alongside you and suddenly you’ve got an authentically mixed crowd for a white American kid who raps about how much his life sucks. And while it would be wrong to make too much of the audience’s ethnic make-up – hip-hop has long since transcended traditional racial parameters – at a time when the TV star of the moment is someone who satirises non-blacks seeking kudos by adopting the trappings of black culture, the reception afforded to Marshall Mathers III even when Dre isn’t alongside him remains hugely impressive.

But once Dre is out there, grinning his way through ‘Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang’ after [a]Eminem[/a]’s warmed matters up with a brace of attitudinally dubious, undeniably exciting diss-fests, the focus of the audience’s attention is beyond doubt. The details of the pair’s exchanges on ‘Forgot About Dre’ and ‘What’s The Difference’, so scintillating on Dre‘s recent album, lose their focus amid the booming haze, but at least the sound is loud, and thanks to such aural ballast the sheer drama of the occasion is palpable. For the five numbers he’s onstage, Dre looks relaxed and happy, every inch the man who wisely decided to put gangsta rap behind him after it was clear he couldn’t really walk it like he’d talked it, revelling in this rare communion with his public.

Keeping matters real hasn’t been such a problem for [a]Eminem[/a], since his Slim Shady persona allows him to be as hysterically nasty as and when he wants to be. Sure, his targets are weeny and pathetic, but then aren’t those all this instantaneous, genetically modified culture has to offer? So ‘The Real Slim Shady’ upbraids the Antichrist herself, Christina Aguilera (“I’d just like to say that everything’s OK with me and that fucking little slut,” smirks Em). As he pounds the profanity quotient with ‘Just Don’t Give A Fuck’ – followed swiftly by ‘Still Don’t Give A Fuck’ – then blinds us to reasonable behaviour via ‘My Name Is’, it’s a righteously entertaining instance of Tourette‘s syndrome as choreography.

Oh yeah, and he drops his kecks too. Dr Dre sensibly maintains his along with his dignity for a slightly sloppy encore jaunt through ‘Guilty Conscience’, [a]Eminem[/a]’s most eloquent swipe at the world which made him, then subsequently made him sick and ultimately made him very rich. As 4,000-plus people throw their middle fingers in the air, most assuredly without care, the thought occurs that each society gets the (anti) heroes it deserves.