Eminem joins Rihanna at Staples Center and makes the room explode

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The crowd at Rihanna’s first-ever headlining show in Los Angeles, at Staples Center on Wednesday night, was already up and shouting. But the minute Rihanna began singing the hook from “Love the Way You Lie,” the din began to build to a rolling boil. Then the somewhat expected happened: Eminem, her duet partner on that No. 1 song, emerged and started spitting out his emotional verses from the song. The response from the audience was so loud, you might have thought it was June 17 and Kobe, Pau and Ron had just nabbed victory again.

Eminem’s emergence wasn’t shocking, since he and Rihanna were filming a video in town earlier in the day. It added an element of spontaneity to Rihanna’s visually stunning, high-concept concert. With no particular set piece on which to rely -- no pink tank, no trashed car, none of the many other props that populated the nightmarish dream world of the “Last Girl on Earth” tour -- the two performers relied on what made the single so memorable: their vocal rapport.


Adopting a stern stance, Eminem unfurled his emotional verses about a violent relationship, while Rihanna countered with the song’s soft, mournful chorus. The pair circled each other on the stage extension that put Rihanna out in the crowd for much of the show. They didn’t direct their words at each other. Their disconnection may have been the result of nerves -- Eminem and Rihanna have only performed the song live once before -- but it actually worked for this song, which, after all, is about two lovers who have grown perilously incompatible.

Most impressive, perhaps, was Eminem’s effect on the fans, who went completely bonkers when he entered. The great success of his new album, “Recovery,” already should have silenced anyone doubting whether Em could make a lasting comeback after his struggles with addiction. The frenzy that he can still ignite, even at another chart-topper’s show, testifies to his status as a classic-variety superstar. As for giving back, he didn’t pander; he just did what he does best -- rap -- and departed.

More on Rihanna’s show, and on opener Kesha, in a full review later Thursday.

-- Ann Powers

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