Reviewed on Saturday February 22
Was this the hip hop festival Australian fans had been waiting for? Certainly, the fact this felt like a stadium gig (as opposed to a large, disconnected outdoor show) long before the headliner took his mark suggested as much. Or that M-Phazes, Action Bronson, 360 and J. Cole just find playing enormous stadiums piss easy.
No disrespect to any of those respective performers’ talents, but this was an afternoon and evening driven by the fans – just the way it should be. Still, just making the opening curtain was an achievement for Paul Dainty’s Rapture, given the recent history of failed hip hop festivals in this country. By the time the sun withdrew and Kendrick Lamar arrived in its place, expectations were high. The Compton rapper, backed by a full live band, opened with ‘Money Trees’ and accelerated towards a ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’/’Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ double-up, the centrepiece of his set.
Lamar himself was on fine form, as was his drummer, but in these enormous surrounds the rest of his accompanists were disappointingly difficult to make out. But the MC hit a sweet spot by introducing his last song: “I love Sydney just like I love Compton, know what I’m sayin’?” Yep, copied loud and clear.
Eminem is of course the central pivot on which Rapture has rested in its debut year, which may prove to be a hindrance down the track. Just how will the promoter match Slim’s profile with his next headliner? Surely it can’t be anyone worthy of filling Sydney’s biggest stadium. Such concerns were of no consequence during Eminem’s hundred or so minutes onstage, though. In the moment, Eminem was a star of all stars; hyperactively stalking the stage on his first visit here since 2011.
Not so his hype man, Mr. Porter, who spent much of the time interrupting the hero. None of “whatthefuckisupsydney” or “putyourhandsup” or “Sydneyareyouwithus” will ever speak as loudly as Eminem’s rhymes. ‘Survival’ opened proceedings, and ‘White America’ was an early highlight. ‘The Way I Am’ was hampered by its vocals being mainly backing track – what was Mr. Porter there for in the first place, if not that? – but ‘Lighters’ opened up the atmosphere of the second half with, well, a sky full of lighters.
While Eminem himself seemed most enthusiastic about his newer Marshall Mathers LP 2 material – ‘Berzerk’ was comfortably the night’s most energetic effort – he was eager to please the masses. Hence a medley of ‘My Name Is’, ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Without Me’, before ‘Not Afraid’ closed the main set and ‘Lose Yourself’ filled the encore.
The general enthusiasm around Rapture’s debut, however, only brought us back to the original question – where to from here? On current evidence, Rapture has huge potential. If it can somehow achieve a lineup anywhere near this one in future, maybe the revolution really is nigh.