A Giant Homecoming for Eminem

Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Gregory A. DeTogne


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If home is where you go and they have to let you in, Detroit mayor and hip hop aficionado Kwame Kilpatrick was one of thousands holding the door wide open for Eminem's triumphant return to the Motor City for two dates at Ford Field on July 12 and 13 this year. In a video played before each show, Kilpatrick was shown phoning Eminem overseas, appealing to the rapper to come home for the summer and perform at least once. Em put the mayor on hold briefly, then flung a doll into the air on his hotel balcony — a la the baby-tossing Michael Jackson — and when the phone conversation continued, Eminem announced to Kilpatrick: “For you and the city, I'll do two shows.” Cue wild applause.

This rapport between mayor and superstar represented a vast departure from three years ago, when Eminem's tour got into hot water with then-mayor Dennis Archer for trying to play a video deemed too graphic by city leaders. Kilpatrick's larger-than-life video presence at this year's shows — the only headlining appearances made by Eminem in the U.S. this year — served to underscore how quickly political climates can change. Stepping onstage at 10 p.m. both nights, Eminem faced rapturous sold-out crowds, playing to a total of 95,000 fans. Quickly taking command of each evening, he served up 27 songs with seismic delivery on each date, making maximal use of his 90 minutes in the limelight. With opening sets from 50 Cent and Missy Elliott, plus appearances by local heroes Proof, D-12 and Obie Trice, the homecoming event made Detroit crackle and buzz with the energy of what was surely the grandest hip hop spectacle ever hosted by the city.

The set list was heavy on songs from The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, dipping only sparingly into Eminem's 1999 debut, Luv Me. For those who caught last year's Anger Management Tour at the nearby Palace of Auburn Hills, this year's shows were basically a repeat, with the exception of songs from the 8 Mile soundtrack and a few other new stunts. Back again were production elements reminiscent of some evil carnival, complete with a ferris wheel, a master of ceremonies, tents and a giant video screen bordered by a banner advertising psychic readings. High above the stage, garish neon lights spelled out “The Eminem Show”; in true carny fashion, the “n” sputtered and flickered, on the verge of going out.

Audio for the extravaganza was provided by Eighth Day Sound, with Troy Staton standing at FOH behind a Yamaha PM1D. Onstage, the monitor rig was handled by engineer Sean Sturge (also on a PM1D) with the assistance of tour tech Jimmy Corbin. Crew chief was Eighth Day's Mark Brnich.

Staton has worked with Eminem for over three years but has been passionate about hip hop for over 25, placing him squarely in the cradle of the music's birth back in the day. Today, with prolific studio time under his belt, including work with Tupac, Dr. Dre, Wu Tang Clan, Jurassic 5 and Cypress Hill, to name just a few, as well as countless miles logged on the road with other major acts, it's hard to believe he shot out of the South Bronx on nothing more than the energy of the street.

“When I was a DJ, my first P.A. was a Shure Vocalmaster,” Staton recalls from his adopted home in the Los Feliz district of L.A. “So I guess when it comes to live music, you could say I even started out on a line array system of sorts. The Vocalmaster cabinets were long, tall columns loaded with drivers. I'd hang them on the wall and the music would be bangin'.”

Still a line array proponent these days, Staton called upon Eighth Day Sound's V-DOSC inventory to produce a house array for Eminem's Detroit shows, employing 32 full-range cabinets and 16 subs flown per side. Augmenting the low end with a wall of sound surpassing anything emanating from Motown in the '60s, Turbosound Flashlight Series subs were added to the sonic recipe, lined across the front of the stage like a ground-shaking bulwark against anyone daring to get too close.

In theory, the Eminem show's Detroit stage input appeared straightforward: There were no instruments. All musical tracks came from the stage DJ, Green Lantern, who was outfitted with a Technics x1200 turntable, an Instant Replay unit from 360 Systems, Pioneer Scratch CD player and a Vestax PMC-07 Pro D DJ mixer. With the DJ's mix traveling through Countryman active DIs to respective destinations at the house and monitor consoles, the bulk of the musical tracks were stored in the Instant Replay, which was backed up on-site by a second identical device.

“For the Detroit shows, I had a maximum of seven voices coming into my board at one time,” Staton relates. “That was during the times D-12 was onstage, combined with Em, his backing vocals and the DJ. This certainly wasn't like mixing a full-on rock show with guitars, a drum kit with scores of mics and whatnot, but nothing's ever as simple as it seems. Because the performers swap lead vocals every few bars, I need to follow the changes, putting the lead channel around 5 dB above the others. I know all of the songs by heart, so I programmed the level ride for the whole show verse-by-verse on the PM1D. That way, when Eminem does a verse in a specific song, for example, I simply recall the corresponding scene, and the mix is right on.”

The stage side of the input equation included four channels of Sennheiser SKM-5000 wireless and 12 channels of Shure UHF wireless that relied upon SM58-equipped hand-held transmitters. “Eminem and his backup guy, Proof of D-12, were on the Sennheisers; for the most part, everyone else was on one of the Shure systems,” Staton explains. “The SKM-5000 works well with Em's voice, and the Shure mics translate well in this application for the others, as they can take the high SPL. Most of these guys are cupping the microphones, shouting into them and generally dishing out hard use. The 58s can withstand that kind of handling without so much as a whimper.”

Like any other live gig for Staton, mixing the Detroit shows was a 50/50 proposition: “50 percent about the music and 50 percent about clarity,” he says by way of further explanation. “I'm really big on vocal clarity. The beat can be in-your-face and pounding, but if I can't understand the lyrics, you lose half the battle with me. That's why I continually strive to bring intelligibility to every one of my live mixes. One of the guys from Cypress Hill told me, ‘Man, this sounds just like the album. I can understand every word.’ For me, that's the best thing I could ever hear, because that's exactly what I'm going for.”

All of the resulting attention Staton has gained while enjoying the trip is somewhat bittersweet. “Ever since I've been working with Eminem, my phone never rings,” he says half-seriously. “People read all of these articles and interviews, find out what I'm doing and say, ‘Yeah, he's dope. I know that guy, but we can't afford him, so let's call so-and-so.’ My message to everyone is, ‘Hey, I just enjoy working. Give me a call and let's do something. No project is too big or small.”

In the works since late last year, Eminem's Detroit shows pulled out all stops and spared no expense. Late Friday night before the Saturday opener, Em was still hunkered down inside Ferndale's 54 Sound Studio mixing the video that would open his act. (In addition to Mayor Kilpatrick, Kid Rock made a cameo appearance in another vignette as Eminem's liquor-swilling chauffeur, blasting through the streets of Detroit in a Hummer.) While no one can ascertain how big The Eminem Show will continue to get, one thing is certain: He's at the top of his game and shows no signs of slowing down. He's currently working on albums by D-12 and Obie Trice, as well as a disc of his own. And the fact that he can sell out stadiums…That is big.

Greg DeTogne is a regular contributor to Mix.

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