Two of the most striking moments in Eminem and 50 Cent’s new “Anger Management” tour consist of simulated gunshots and the violent gagging of someone throwing up in a toilet bowl.
Is that really the sound of music in 2005?
Yes, and these guys really know their target audience.
Eminem and 50 Cent, who inaugurated their joint tour Monday at the outdoor Tweeter Center at Tinley Park south of here, have endeared themselves to young fans by driving parents away with such devices, which many older pop fans, unfortunately, continue to see only as crude and exploitative.
It took nine Grammy wins and a powerfully convincing performance in the film “8 Mile,” but now many once-skeptical adults recognize Eminem as a hugely gifted artist; 50 Cent, who has given us some of the most infectious hit singles in years and would appear to have some Grammys in his future, continues to be seen chiefly as the guy who was once shot nine times.
The news from Chicago on Monday was that it was actually 50 Cent who put on the more captivating show.
On his first tour after a two-year break, Eminem appeared so interested in showcasing his mates that it took away from some of his own urgency. What was mainly missing from Eminem’s performance was any hint of his next step musically. He reminds us clearly of his brilliance as a rapper and writer, but he seems to be a man at a crossroads in his career, and he gives us no clue of where he may be headed.
In that spirit, think of this as the Shady Records revue.
Shady is Eminem’s label in association with Interscope and Aftermath Records, and the roster includes 50 Cent and members of D12, the Detroit rap crew that shared the stage much of the evening with Eminem. 50 Cent, in turn, brought on artists from his own G-Unit label. Even Lil Jon, the opening act, got into the spirit by showcasing some of his label mates at TVT Records.
And if you are fretting over commercials in movie theaters, get ready for them at concerts. During intermission, video ads were shown promoting such wares as a 50 Cent vitamin water beverage, G-Unit shoes and watches and, of course, upcoming Shady recordings. Given the promotional nature of the tour, you’d think they might give a price break to their young ticket-buying fans. No such luck; tickets are averaging $60, almost double that of the 2002 edition.
These guys are such unapologetic entrepreneurs they would have been great candidates on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” -- before they had their own millions.
Commercialism aside, 50 Cent’s own frequently fabulous performance on this tour, which includes a July 23 stop at Hyundai Pavilion in Devore, should do much to build his credibility outside of the hip-hop world.
50 Cent, a New Yorker whose real name is Curtis Jackson, isn’t as boldly inventive as Eminem, but he is a splendid talent who blends raw street imagery and sing-along pop hooks with almost irresistible force. His “Disco Inferno” and “Candy Shop” are among the five most-played radio hits so far this year, and “Just a Lil Bit” is equally seductive.
“Disco Inferno,” with its deliriously catchy “Shake, sh-sh-shake that [thing] girl” refrain, is such a glorious dance-floor exercise that many artists would milk it for 15 minutes in concert. But 50 Cent delivered an edited version of it in a frantic pace that packed almost two dozen songs into his 70-minute set.
For all the gunshots and stark tales of his own troubled youth, 50 Cent makes no secret that his biggest goal is to sell records. “I’m a track star,” he says on one song in his “The Massacre” album, “running through life, chasin’ my dream.”
On stage Monday, he showed such a commanding flair for melody that you could picture him writing a winning hip-hop musical for Broadway. When he donned a dapper white suit midway during his set, he even looked like he was taking part in some rousing Broadway finale. He had so much fun on stage that the scowl of his album cover photos gave way to smiles.
Because he is on fire commercially, the tour with Eminem could have the feel of a battle of the rappers if they weren’t business partners and friends. Instead, their camaraderie was reminiscent of the Motown and Stax revues of the ‘60s, when the labels packed the bills with artists from their respective rosters.
Though members of 50 Cent’s G-Unit crew contributed nicely to his musical punch, Olivia, a personable singer on his label, proved the most stylish, not only adding to some of 50 Cent’s tunes but also taking the lead on a song of her own.
The sets were striking, especially during 50 Cent’s segment, in which he performed amid an urban battlefield decorated with a smashed police car, an anxious-looking Statue of Liberty knocked over on its side and numerous trash fires burning.
Fans cheered and danced so much that you wondered if they would have any emotion left for Eminem.
Fans welcomed him back warmly, cheering both the numbers from his latest album, “Encore,” and such older tunes as “Stan,” “The Way I Am” and “Cleaning Out My Closet.”
In his best moments, Eminem showed why he is one of the most revolutionary figures in all of pop, someone whose themes not only capture the insecurities and doubts of young people but also address contradictions and hypocrisy he sees in the wider adult world.
He found time for some of his trademark humor, especially during a mock apology to Michael Jackson for having offended him by talking about Jackson and little boys in a song from “Encore.” After apologizing, however, he donned a surgical mask, a Jackson trademark, and threw baby dolls from a second-floor ledge -- alluding to the 2002 incident in Berlin, in which Jackson dangled his child over a hotel balcony railing.
There were excellent moments in the “Encore” album, particularly those in which Eminem looked back on his life in sensitive, even humble ways. His “Mosh” was a mature step into social commentary, his equivalent of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ... “
Still, it felt like the end of a chapter, and Monday’s set was more like a summary rather than a fresh vision.
Eminem has often said he may cut back as an artist and work behind the scenes, finding new talent and helping produce their music. He seemed too often to be sampling that role Monday. It would be too bad if he settles into it. For all the strengths of 50 Cent and D12, Eminem remains Shady’s greatest artist.
Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn may be reached at Robert.Hilburn@latimes.com
‘Anger Management’ tour
Where: Hyundai Pavilion at Glen Helen, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore
When: 5 p.m. July 23
Price: $39 to $95
Contact: (909) 880-6500