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Wednesday, September 1,2010

Spectacular Eminem-Jay-Z production was months in the making

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

DETROIT — You can finally accuse Eminem of understatement.

"We've done things together," the Detroit rapper told interviewers when announcing his upcoming shows with Jay-Z. "But I'm not sure we've ever done anything this big."

With the superstar duo set to stage a massive home-and-home series — a pair of Comerica Park shows this week (Thursday and Friday) followed by two at Yankee Stadium (Sept. 13-14) — the superlatives are coming thick and fast from those close to the event.

The biggest North American concerts this year, says one Comerica Park executive. The heaviest ticket demand one Live Nation honcho has ever experienced. A "once-in-a-lifetime production" for an industry veteran who has staged Super Bowl halftime shows.

There's historical significance too. The sold-out dates aren't just testament to the enduring power of Em and Jay-Z, two of the world's biggest music acts — they also mark a milestone for hip-hop itself.

"They're putting hip-hop on the same playing field as anything else," says L.A. hip-hop journalist Scott Sterling, citing rock's storied history of concert spectacle. "If I'm a 15-year-old who's getting into this music, it makes anything possible."

Turning Detroit into the center of the music world for two days has been months in the making.

"Marshall and Jay had the idea," says Live Nation's Rick Franks, "and from there they ran with it."

Plans were shepherded via Jay-Z's relationship with Live Nation — the pioneering "360 deal" that gives the company a stake in his tours, recordings and publishing.

First on the list: nailing down a window that fit the baseball schedule, while accommodating the show's unique needs as a one-off event rather than a full-length tour.

"The production is very, very complicated, a lot of moving parts, because it's only the four shows," says production director Dan Parise.

Work began several weeks before the May announcement. World-renowned lighting and scene designers were enlisted, and at Live Nation's New York office, specialists dove into 15-hour days, crafting stage renderings and configuring logistics.

Eminem and Jay-Z were hands-on through the entire process, says Parise.

"This is their vision," he says. "My job was to make it reality. But the concept, the idea, the messages they're trying to get across — it's all theirs."

Parise won't divulge many details. But like others involved with the show, he describes it as a massive set heavy on video elements and special effects. Parise, a 22-year industry veteran, says the two artists were "intent on creating something you don't see every day."

Fifty-plus semitrailers will haul the production from Detroit to New York — more than the typical continental tour by the Rolling Stones or U2.

"Put it this way," he says. "It would be difficult to tour this show, and I think that tells you everything."

Over six days at Comerica Park, which hosted an Eminem show in 2005, a crew of about 300 has been erecting the stage, building light and audio structures, and laying protective covering atop the playing field.

About 40,000 people will fill the ballpark for each show, including fans from Europe and Asia.

"We probably could have done four dates (at Comerica Park), but the schedule just didn't work out," says Dana Warg, president of Olympia Entertainment, which operates Comerica Park. "The way we announced it nationally on ESPN and Fox, with the artists in town, certainly helped the exposure. We have them coming from all around for this show, and I think it will have a huge economic impact in Detroit."

It's expected that Eminem will follow Jay-Z for the Detroit shows, and vice versa in New York. And Eminem's performance will come with a new twist: He'll be backed by a live band.

Luis Resto — Em's collaborator on hits such as "Lose Yourself" — is one of two keyboardists in the six-piece ensemble that has accompanied the rapper onstage since last October.

"It's definitely bringing the energy of the album tracks up to a whole different place," says Resto. "I really think Marshall is enjoying it."


(c) 2010, Detroit Free Press.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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