But it’s not as exciting as that makes it sound. In town to record a Letterman appearance with Jay-Z from the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater, Eminem stopped by Red Bull EmSee: The Road to 8 Mile, a freestyle competition he was presenting at Bowery Ballroom — whose max capacity is just a shade under the roughly 55,000 people that Yankee Stadium, where he’ll be performing in September, can hold — sometime after midnight.
At that point, much of the crowd, either oblivious or indifferent to the identity of the secret headliner (or maybe beaten down by having attended a freestyle competition?), had trickled out, leaving the cozy venue bizarrely half-empty for the surprise guest star. Em didn’t seem to mind, coming out firing with verses over Drake’s “Over” and Lloyd Banks’s “Beamer, Benz or Bentley,” eyes popping, neck veins bulging. Half the crowd reacted in a manner appropriate for Eminem playing a venue he probably hadn’t seen since the early months of the Slim Shady LP tour; the other half were busy recording footage for their YouTube channels. And it’s probably a good thing they did, as the gig was over quick: Roughly twenty minutes after that excitable entrance, and after having run through “On Fire” — with his voice, at first, seemingly near cracking before he found his footing — and “Won’t Back Down” from his underwhelming new album Recovery, Eminem was gone. “Honest to God, thank you,” he paused to say before he left. “I couldn’t be here without you.” All in all, a strange, disappointing performance, but with flashes of potential. Guess we’ll have to buy tickets to that Yankee Stadium show after all.