August 23, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Eminem and Rihanna give fans 'Monster' event

Eminem performs on the The Monster Tour Friday night at Comerica Park. (Jeremy Deputat)

Detroit— Eminem and Rihanna unleashed a “Monster” on Comerica Park Friday night in front of approximately 45,000 fans at the first of their two blockbuster concerts at the Detroit Tigers’ home. With a two-and-a-half hour show that spanned four dozen songs, the duo delivered the sold-out crowd a parade of hits that rarely let up and never turned down.

It has been four years since Eminem played his hometown, when he did back-to-back nights with Jay Z at Comerica Park during the first of the pair’s “Home and Home” shows in 2010. Those concerts were electrifying, historic outings that were packed with special guests and made a statement about how far hip-hop had come and how big it could be. Friday’s “Monster” show didn’t have the same significance but still packed a wallop, and found Em in tip-top performance shape as he bobbed and weaved around the stadium’s enormous stage.

Em has never been more physically agile. He never stopped jumping in place, shuffling his feet or jabbing with his hands, as if he was shadowboxing all night. He did have some help in the vocal department; aside from a prominent backing track, he was joined on stage by his hype man, Denaun Porter, who doubled many of his lyrics. But he was on point when he needed to be, and during his most taxing songs – “No Love,” “Forever” and “Rap God,” all of which feature breathless verses delivered at a breakneck speed – he was impressive and handled the heavy lifting.

Like last summer’s Jay Z and Justin Timberlake concert and this year’s Drake and Lil Wayne pairing, the “Monster” show focused on collaborations and integrated sets rather than a traditional opener/ closer dynamic. It’s a more modern model and has a big event feel, and is fitting for two superstars the stature of Em and Rihanna. The huge stage featured four large video screens and a full band with a brass section that added punch to the pair’s material.

The duo opened the show together with “Numb,” one of their three recorded collaborations, with Em hitting the stage tied to a stretcher, a holdover from an intro video that found Em locked up in a maximum security prison cell. (That story thread, thankfully, was dropped immediately.) They rolled into Em’s “No Love,” with Rihanna taking on the song’s chorus, then into “Run This Town,” with Eminem spitting his “Renegade” verse over the song’s instrumental. It was the night’s most adventurous collaboration and biggest musical surprise, the only moment during the show that broke from the musical script. More of those mash-up moments would have been welcome.

“Hey Detroit, we’re home!” Eminem shouted after a brief run through of “Crack a Bottle” early in the show. That led into Em’s “Won’t Back Down,” on which Rihanna (whose Alice Cooper T-shirt was a cool nod to Detroit) sang Pink’s part, which gave way to a lengthy suite of Rihanna hits including “Cake,” “Talk That Talk,” “Rude Boy,” “Pour It Up,” “Umbrella” and more.

Rihanna is a provocative entertainer and a boundary pusher in her own shows, but aside from some suggestive hand gestures she kept things mostly clean during her performance. She was joined on stage by up to 10 dancers at various points, but her performance sometimes felt dwarfed by the enormity of the production. There was no doubting her hits, however, and she stacked them one on top of another for the duration of her set.

Em joined Rihanna on stage for “Love the Way You Lie,” which transitioned into a long set of Eminem songs which built up the bulk of the show. Em skipped around his catalog like he was in shuffle mode: The way he bounced through his songs – a verse from “3 a.m.” here, a bit of “Business” there, some “Evil Deeds” thrown in for good measure – matched his jerky movements on stage. He included a pair of tributes for his fallen comrades, shouting out Proof during “Like Toy Soldiers” and Nate Dogg on “Till I Collapse.” Meanwhile, “Berzerk” – one of only three “Marshall Mathers LP 2” songs that were touched on – featured an extended outro of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke.”

Em and Porter at one point traded a few lines from the Will Ferrell comedy “Step Brothers” – which was oddly quoted at last week’s One Direction concert at Ford Field as well – and Em segued into a roll call of his albums’ big debut singles, from “My Name Is” to “Not Afraid.” Rihanna came back out for “Diamonds” and “We Found Love” and Em returned for a triumphant “Lose Yourself,” and the two closed the show together with their most recent smash and tour namesake, “The Monster,” which was punctuated by shower of fireworks exploding in the sky.

Eminem is at a point in his career where he only performs big concerts. Since 2010, his performances have been limited to festival shows and stadium performances, and his traditional touring days are likely behind him. Through scarcity he’s become a better performer, and he now makes his presence felt in a big way every time he shows up. That’s what he did on Friday, and he and Rihanna’s “Monster” lived up to its roar.

Carloes Crumpton, 16, of Detroit, dances outside Comerica Park as fans ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Eminem and Rihanna perform on the The Monster Tour Friday night at ... (Jeremy Deputat)