Live Review: Eminem stands by his name in Boston Calling’s grand 2018 finale


All photos by Matthew Shelter for Vanyaland.

Covering music festivals gets hectic. Mistakes happen. In the interest of preserving journalistic credibility, I must start this recap of Sunday’s third of Boston Calling 2018 with a retraction.

In a post summarizing the previous day’s ongoings, I pondered whether we might “ultimately remember Sunday headliner Eminem as [this year’s] second-best mega-famous rapper who started his career getting too much attention for being offensive.” This is misleading in two major respects.


1. It implies that Tyler, The Creator and Eminem can or should be directly compared. Tyler made isolation a key aspect of his set, whereas Marshall Mathers referred to the collective entity as Eminem in the plural. “We’re so glad to be back in Boston,” “Who’s been with us since the start?” ect. Longtime collaborator and hype man Mr. Porter, singer Skylar Grey, Royce Da 5’9”, and a virtual inferno friendship society of accessory musicians all joined Nicki Minaj’s [alleged] new boyfriend at various points for his just-short-of two hour extravaganza. Basically, saying Tyler, The Creator was better than Eminem at Boston Calling is like saying a pint of non-dairy Ben & Jerry’s is better than a Fleshlight.

2. The tone of the egregious statement from Sunday morning’s post indicates a dismissive attitude regarding Eminem. This is incorrect, because Eminem was amazing.

Fucking amazing, you might even say.


In my own defense, I grew up in a suburban Boston community where every young shithead played Tony Hawk: Pro Skater instead of graduating high school and listened to 1999’s Slim Shady LP on repeat, but would never listen to any other hip hop under any circumstances because they were suuuuper racist. But not taking Eminem seriously jus’ ‘cos some of his listeners are worthless is like saying Tool sucks just because of Tool’s unfortunate crossover appeal with incels and Jordan Peterson fans.

As for Sunday night, a pile of garbage in my vicinity got a little too excited to sing the chorus of “White America” — a track that, much like “Born In The USA,” right wingers can and will embrace and adore because they never, ever pay attention to the lyrics. We’ve known about Eminem’s discomfort with sections of his audience since the fictional murder/suicide of Stan on 2000’s Marshall Mathers LP, who happened to star in one of the whole weekend’s most powerful moments. Despite emerging during completely different eras in Eminem’s career, the troubled fanatic Mathers embodies in “Stan” could conceivably be the same guy perpetuating a domestic abuse cycle in “Love The Way You Lie,” which made the pair of relatively dated radio hits feel timeless when meshed together. The transition required Grey to fill in for Dido and Rihanna within three minutes of each other, and now we know that anyone who crosses Grey’s path in a karaoke tournament is pretty fucked.

And, yeah, I guess Eminem is dating Nicki Minaj now. In fact, Mathers asked Boston if we thought he and Minaj would make a good couple, which was kind of awkward, actually. Of course we answered in the affirmative, but, s’like… I mean, it’s not our business to have an opinion on other people’s personal goings-on, y’know? As Eminem said, this was his first trip to Boston in 14 years, and we only see Minaj something like once every few years when she’s on tour, so, y’know, we were really getting dragged out of our lane on that one. Fortuitously, Eminem played “My Name Is” shortly thereafter and the uncomfortable episode was quickly forgotten.


Overall, the festival went lighter than usual on local representation this year with STL GLD and Cousin Stizz (a last-minute replacement for he UK’s Stormzy) appearing as the only Boston-based acts at Boston Calling. That’s fine. I don’t know how much of a rub a 1 p.m. slot in front of a field full of out-of-towners who showed up to see Eminem really gives anybody’s roommate’s band. But Portland, Maine is almost Boston, and Weakened Friends’ kinda gloomy-yet-kinetic slacker rock makes ideal cloudy day music, so I’m certainly not the only one who was amused to hear them at 1:35 on the Red Stage.

Across the grounds, Zola Jesus stole the afternoon with a downright primal display melding electroclash, sprawling pop, and maybe the violinist means the whole deal counts as a little bit folk? Later on down the line, Canadian organization Alvvays transcended their comparatively inconspicuous presentation and the looming weather complications via garage-pop and its corresponding pure positivity. Julien Baker was probably terrific, but the the IKEA Food Lab had their shitty DJ cranked up so loud that I couldn’t hear her across a literal football field.

Fuck that.

Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @barelytomson. Click here for our Boston Calling coverage throughout the weekend.