Eminem, Usher and others play Activision’s star-studded event at Staples
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Of the half-dozen acts that played during Monday night’s mega event at Staples Center, perhaps any one of them alone could have filled the arena. But together, those genre-spanning superstars produced a fantastic and unforgettable stage show for the fairly intimate crowd.
Also, there might have been something about a video game.
The invite-only event was put on by Activision Blizzard, the Santa Monica outfit that makes such hit games as Call of Duty, Guitar Hero and World of Warcraft. Among the first nighttime events for the kickoff of this year’s E3 video game expo in Los Angeles, Activision somehow managed to top Microsoft’s Project Natal spectacle from the night before, which called upon the ever-mystifying Cirque du Soleil.
How a video game publisher managed to book Staples Center on the eve of the Lakers’ crucial Game 6 in the NBA finals was a mystery soon forgotten after things got rolling. Eminem was the apparent headliner of the night, nabbing the longest playtime and the last punch and kick onstage, but it wouldn’t be at all fair to call those who preceded him opening acts.
Following an elaborately choregraphed performance to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” (sans Lady Gaga), Deadmau5 -- a creepy, costumed Mickey Mouse-looking guy -- took to the turntables to promote the game DJ Hero 2. Then the lights were cut, the bright-white laser beams loaded, and the stage primed. Usher Raymond, rising from a crouching stance, brought the crowd to its feet.
Usher spiraled into “Caught Up” and then to the dance favorite “Love in This Club,” and his biker gloves, wrist flails and crotch grabs had us wondering whether maybe he’d just wandered over from Ubisoft’s announcement. Nevertheless, Activision had a cheerleader in Usher, one of the night’s few performers that gave audible love back to the company that footed the not-insignificant bill.
“Man, Activision really knows how to do it big, right?” the singer repeated before launching into his hit song “Yeah.” Reemerging later with an even more Jacksony jacket and hat, Usher was joined by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas to finish off with their chart-topping single “OMG.”
“Ya’ll ready for an incredible show?” asked Will.i.am as the two were being lowered into the depths of the stage.
“This is only the beginning,” Usher said.
Indeed, Tony Hawk and friends soon showed up for a brief series of skateboarding jumps to promote the upcoming game Tony Hawk Shred. The skating legend apologized that his segment wasn’t up to snuff. Apparently, they had planned to lower a skate ramp from the rafters. It’s OK, Tony. We were plenty entertained.
Next up was Maynard James Keenan of the metal band Tool singing a cover of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Keenan was backed by an orchestra, a red-robed choir and Billy Howerdel, his band mate from A Perfect Circle, on guitar. A scene from Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock showing a cheese-ball cover band lip-synching to the Queen classic unsurprisingly sullied the performance’s backdrop.
Jane’s Addiction played a tight pair of songs -- “Been Caught Stealing” and “Mountain Song.” Lead singer Perry Ferrell broke into a “Go Lakers” chant on the team’s home court. Rather, go clean up the confetti before Tuesday’s game.
Then, Chris Cornell ascended onto the stage wearing a torn white shirt and an overgrown head of hair to lead the orchestra in an impassioned version of “Black Hole Sun.” The new Guitar Hero game will feature the first single released by Cornell’s Soundgarden in 13 years.
Pharrell Williams led the hip-hop, genre-hoppers of N.E.R.D. in two songs -- “Lap Dance” and “Hot-n-Fun.” Williams also contributed some ra-raing for the game overlords. “How many of you guys know Activision makes the best games on the planet?” he asked rhetorically. “Is Activision the best or what?” Certainly, no one was complaining about the free show.
A game finally got its time in the spotlight, when the orchestra pounded and tooted to the beat of the action in an onscreen showing of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Activision replayed the demo it had shown earlier that day at Microsoft’s Xbox 360 press conference for its heavy-hitting war shooter.
Now, it was more effective, thanks to a rich soundtrack, massive screen and -- Yikes! What the heck was that?! Ah, yes, well-placed, indoor flames, fireworks and near-deafening explosion sounds designed to scare the audience in time with what’s happening on the big screen. OK, OK, we’re paying attention. We got it. Guns and rockets.
Finally, Eminem took the stage along with drummer Travis Barker from Blink-182. Sporting a gold chain with a crucifix, and playing songs from his upcoming album, “Recovery,” Marshall Mathers rapped with searing emotion. Before playing his new single, “Not Afraid,” he paused for a moment to address the audience: “Thank you for sticking by me all these years while I got my [expletive] head straight.” He retreated to the back of the stage midway through the song to fetch a towel, wiping his forehead and below each eye.
For his next act, Eminem invited Rihanna onstage, sparks flying (literally, Activision spares no expense) for their collaboration on “Love the Way You Lie” from his new album. Then the two left, and Eminem returned for his crowd-pleasing finale of “Lose Yourself.”
With foam and confetti exhausted, and fireworks and flaming torches out of gas, it was time to go home. Some stood seemingly in awe and with hesitation that perhaps there was still more to this majorly unpredictable event. Or maybe they had just lost their hearing from those Call of Duty explosions and didn’t realize the music had stopped.
-- Mark Milian
Photo, top: Will.i.am and Usher perform onstage at the Activision E3 preview. Photo, bottom: Eminem. Credit: Michael Buckner / Getty Images for Activision
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