[22 November 2009]
Filmed by Showtime network in 2005 during the third Anger Management tour, Eminem: Live from New York City finds the rapper at a curious point, exhausted from an intense and unstable lifestyle, but not having suffered the worst of what was to come in his life. This concert release captures the calm before the storm, and a few weeks after its filming Eminem would subsequently cancel the European leg of the tour and head to rehab for an addiction to sleeping pills.
He depicted what followed next on his successful 2009 comeback album Relapse, including events such as the murder of his close friend Proof in 2006, his second divorce with Kim that same year, and his troubles getting straight with drug addiction. The fact that this release was chosen to come out on Blu-ray roughly five months after Relapse shows that it stands as a reflection of how bad things were before they got worse, but also how much better things have gotten for him with Eminem’s sobriety.
Consisting of 24 songs performed at Madison Square Garden in support of his 2004 album Encore, Live from New York City focuses solely on Eminem’s headline act from the tour, featuring a supporting cast of D12, Obie Trice, and Stat Quo. What you’ll immediately notice from the set list is that Encore is represented with eight songs, which disappoint on first impression due to Encore being arguably his weakest major album thus far. But some of the tracks work equally to or better than their studio counterparts (“Mosh”, “Mockingbird”, “Like Toy Soldiers”), while others fall flat (“Ass Like That”, “Just Lose It”).
Throughout the show, Eminem’s energy level is lacking in his usual intensity and rawness, and he doesn’t look very excited to be there for some of the weaker songs. What it may be missing in his enthusiasm, it makes up with a co-star performance by the late Proof of D12, who’s on stage for the majority of the show. Proof’s role in the set is crucial and he brings a charisma and personality that cannot be ignored. This disc is one of the only shows recorded showcasing the dynamic chemistry between Eminem and Proof, and it’s difficult not to notice how much fun they have together.
Luckily for Eminem, he’s got one of the most devoted followings around, and so the crowd participation rarely wavers and helps boost the energy even when he’s not totally into it. They react wildly to “The Way I Am”, raise lighters for a beautiful performance of “Stan”, and chant the chorus to the fiery “Kill You”. A big chunk of the set list is dedicated to supporting performers, with D12 splitting time with Obie Trice and Stat Quo. The D12 performances give a much needed comedic relief, with Bizarre’s obesity taking up a bit of screen time while the rest of the crew try their best to shine amongst all the talent.
Highlights include the rousing rendition of “My Band”, which has D12 doing their humorous boy band impression while Eminem enjoys sending up his dark persona with some synchronized dancing. But unfortunately, a lot of the references in the performance are stale and dated, with disses aimed at Mariah Carey and Christopher Reeve that were as awkward then as they are now. However, the use of Bush imagery on “Mosh” is a good rallying point for the audience, and makes for a venomous attack on the former US president.
The stage set-up itself is nothing spectacular, but the lighting and visuals give the home video audience a good representation of what the shows looked like. Three backstage segments that were projected at the shows make appearances at the beginning, middle, and end of the disc. They have Eminem surreally contemplating suicide, only to pull the trigger and find a cartoon “bang flag” protruding out of the barrel. It’s definitely an eerie video in retrospect, and it illustrates his state of mind at the time.
In the later supporting performances of the night, Obie Trice definitely outdoes Stat Quo on their tracks, and as of this moment the latter has still failed to release his debut album. Their four song section is certainly the most forgettable on the disc. Eminem hits a closing stride with “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “Mockingbird”, and when he comes back for an encore with the anthemic “Lose Yourself”, he goes out with a defiant bang by channeling his fire into the Oscar-winning tune.
Eagle Rock didn’t do much to make this a comprehensive disc, with no bonus features in sight. Credit does go to the fact that the show looks and sounds amazing, even when the performances aren’t quite up to par. The inner booklet features a short press essay by the Senior Director of A&R at Shady Records, who tries his best to sell the disc by calling it, “one of the most memorable performances in music history”. It’s hardly that, but the emphasis he puts on Proof’s importance on the tour is truthful and respectable.
While the pacing is uneven and this is far from his best live show, a lot of Live from New York City is compelling and worth a view. But taken as a whole performance, this one is strictly for the diehards because the songs aren’t Eminem’s best, and he doesn’t seem like he’s fully invested, despite the efforts of his supporting cast to make the night memorable. A lot about this disc feels like a cash-in to capitalize on his comeback, seeing as how it’s on its third release (first on Showtime, second on DVD) in four years.
Live from New York isn’t essential viewing, but it remains a document of where Eminem’s life was at the moment, with him burnt out and running on empty before going to hell and back.