CHICAGO -- Rapper Eminem kicked off his Slim Shady Tour at the House of Blues here Wednesday with a set that pleased fans with songs from his hit debut album but sent many home grumbling when it ended after 28 minutes.
Even including two performances of his hit single "My Name Is" (RealAudio excerpt) and an attempt at "Still Don't Give a Fuck" that was abandoned because of turntable problems, the show still featured fewer than 10 songs.
But as long as the show lasted, the mostly white, mostly teen crowd of 1,300 -- the kind of kids who have helped send The Slim Shady LP to #3 on this week's Billboard 200 albums chart -- revelled in Eminem's twisted tales of violence and drug abuse.
Although the 24-year-old Detroit rapper (born Marshall Mathers) has made some attempts in the press to draw a distinction between himself and Slim Shady, his miscreant alter ego, he blurred that line throughout Wednesday's show.
The crowd was in his pocket for numerous call-and-response chants of "What's my name?" -- "Slim Shady!" and "When I say 'Slim,' y'all say 'Shady!' " Whether or not Eminem and Slim Shady are one and the same, it was clear the man of the half-hour, adored by those in front of the stage, was Mr. Shady.
"How many people in Chicago do mushrooms?" the rapper asked while introducing "My Fault" (RealAudio excerpt)," which is about an accidental overdose. "If you do mushrooms, you'll love this song," he said.
If Eminem is supposed to be the performer and Slim Shady the dark, drug-addled rogue, such banter compounded the vagaries of the separation.
But whoever was talking to them, fans seemed to be listening, and Eminem played directly to them. He dove into the crowd four times and often sat on the lip of the stage, slapping hands as he rapped. Throughout the set, his facial expressions were more eager than angry or twisted.
One fan questioned whether the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP -- which include depictions of murder, rape and rampant drug use -- are any worse than other current popular entertainment. They may send a bad message, Chris Wallace, 19, said, "but doesn't everything?"
Songs such as " '97 Bonnie & Clyde" (RealAudio excerpt), in which a father plays with his daughter while discarding the body of the wife he murdered -- are "a little too graphic," for 19-year-old Julie Dagney. "But we don't take them seriously," she said.
Eminem's rhyming skills -- he has a sharp sense of rhythm and syllabic placement -- had difficulty coming through in concert. Such subtleties were lost both in the sound system and in a live delivery that was more forceful than on record.
And any hopes of witnessing the freestyling talent that earned Eminem
second place at the 1997 Rap Olympics were dashed when he left the stage
after an audience-rousing version of "My Name Is."
Although he returned shortly, he simply plowed through the song, in its entirety, once again, this time to the backing riffs of AC/DC's 1981 hard-rock hit "Back in Black."