At Hendrickson Fields & Logger Sports Ground on Sunday, August 10
Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
No, I'm not talking about the teenager walking around the Squamish Valley Music Festival grounds wearing a T-shirt bearing the all-caps slogan "I'M SHADY", nor do I mean the guy performing a bang-on karaoke rendition of Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" for a dozen or so onlookers at one of the small booths that lined the main field.
The latter faker was good enough to fool at least one punter, however, since I witnessed someone sincerely ask a lanyard-wearing festival worker whether the karaoke rapper was the real Marshall Mathers — never mind the fact that it wasn't yet three in the afternoon and Eminem wouldn't be taking the stage for another six-plus hours.
Clearly, Eminem was the artist generating the most buzz around the festival grounds, but he was hardly the only big-name act on the bill for Squamish's third full day. Making the whole thing even more idyllic was the glorious summer sunshine, cloudless blue sky and stunningly mountainous setting.
As afternoon arrivers settled onto the lawn in front of the Tantalus Stage, Mounties opened with the ascendent synth twinkles of "Pretty Respectable". The super-trio of drummer Hawksley Workman, keyboardist Steve Bays (of Hot Hot Heat) and guitarist Ryan Dahle (of Limblifter) were joined by three accompanying musicians, and their freewheeling arrangements left room for mic-sharing and loosey-goosey jams.
Between songs, Workman kept everyone entertained with rambling monologues, and he told fans, "What strange humans we get to be together." The set ended with a string of standout singles including the seasonally appropriate "Tokyo Summer".
At the opposite end of the main field, rootsy local outfit Good for Grapes packed six musicians plus instruments into an SUV for a mellow performance at the Subaru booth. As far as shameless corporate gimmicks go, it was a neat idea.
Good for Grapes' finale was drowned out by Shad's first song at the Tantalus Stage. The charming rapper delivered wholesome, good natured quips on the infectious "Stylin" and showed his instrumental chops when plucking a Les Paul during "Rock to It".
He was at his best, however, when he ditched his six-string and led the fans in waving their arms during "Keep Shining." He asked, "We've got a few more party songs, is that cool?" The answer was "yes," but as he launched into "Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)", I scurried to the Stawamus Stage to catch the second half of Danny Brown.
After painfully rolling my ankle while dashing down the dusty, uneven forest trail between the stages — and cursing whoever decided to book Shad and Brown in an overlapping time slot — I finally emerged to one hell of a rager.
Brown's sordid display was in stark contrast to Shad's family-friendly content. The Detroit MC squawked hedonistic rhymes over bass blasted, EDM-inspired beats, which were frequently punctuated by sampled air horns. He repeatedly waggled his tongue and flashed his signature shattered-teeth smile, and things got particularly outlandish when he gave a maniacal, horror movie giggle and declared, "I just want to know where the motherfucking molly is up in this motherfucker" before leading into "Dip".
Next, I briefly stopped by the Blueprint Arena for a fairly tame selection of R&B from the SJS DJs. This was a chilled out gathering, and even the presence of two scantily clad dancers on stage — dressed in gold and looking a bit like greeters at Caesar's Palace — didn't discourage parents from bringing their toddlers out to boogie on the grass.
Then it was back to the Stawamus Stage for Phantogram. Severely black bobbed singer Sarah Barthel donned a leather spiked glove and a T-shirt emblazoned with a big "X", looking a bit like she took fashion advice from both Rob Halford and the xx.
The band complained of a few technical difficulties, but guitarist Josh Carter brushed these aside and told the audience, "Today we're all at one with the universe and centred in our greatness." Before anyone had time to ask what the fuck he was talking about, the combo closed with the meaty licks of "When I'm Small".
The sun was scorching and shade was scarce at this secondary field. Some fans sought relief at water misting stations, while others — myself included — pushed towards the Stawamus Stage's exit. I walked past the Blueprint Arena, where Cyril Hahn was delivering a buoyantly booming beat, and I dodged creepy dancers who lurched around on stilts. My journey led me past Good for Grapes at the Meadow Stage; the sextet must have found this venue luxuriously large compared to the car it was in earlier.
Back out on the main field, the sun had sunk behind the towering mountains, and festival goers lazed on the grass and ate dinner during the Temper Trap's low energy Tantalus Stage appearance. The Australian foursome's polite indie rock tunes were pleasant enough, but it was hard to shake the feeling that everyone was just waiting for that song from (500) Days of Summer ("Sweet Disposition"), which was saved for last.
Arctic Monkeys were much more engaging, thanks in large part to charismatic frontman Alex Turner, whose retro greaser schtick seems to get cooler with each local appearance. When he sauntered out onto the main stage, he had his hair slicked back and he wore a hideous smoking jacket as he picked up a teardrop-shaped 12-string for the bluesy swagger of "Do I Wanna Know?"
With a slender denim-clad leg cocked on his pedal board and his pointy-toed leather boot angled suggestively outward, he paused "Snap Out of It" to inquire, "'Ow you feelin' babay?"
At other points in the gripping set, the lads dipped into their garage rocking back catalogue for "Brianstorm" and "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor". After the latter number, Turner peeled off his white T-shirt before putting his jacket back on and carrying on with his bare chest peeking out. He then pulled a comb out of his pocket to re-slick his hair before strumming an acoustic guitar on the aching "No. 1 Party Anthem", which was everybody's cue to wave the promotional lighters that had been handed out on-site by a dispensary.
By this time, night had fully fallen, and strands of balloons with blue twinkle light stretched hundreds up feet up into the sky while the brilliantly bright supermoon peeked over the mountains. And then, it was time for the real Slim Shady to finally stand up.
With a tall white screen hung in front of the stage, Eminem's set began with an episode of a faux crime show. This detailed the rapper's kidnapping and attempted murder by Matthew Mitchell, the bereaved little brother of the titular character from Em's hit "Stan".
Having set the scene for the opening "Bad Guy" (which follows the same narrative), the white screen dropped and Marshall Mathers bounded out, flanked by hype man Mr. Porter and backed by a large live band. They were in front of a backdrop with a massive image of a stereo, which was overlaid with vibrant video footage to create dazzling 3D effects.
Eminem snarled his rhymes as the ensemble tore into a string of ferocious cuts, many of them lasting only a minute before morphing into the next track. He wore a black hoodie pulled up over his hat, and he repeatedly grabbed at the fabric around the crotch of his extremely comfortable looking sweat shorts.
This was Em's first gig in the area in many years, and he acknowledged his absence with an impromptu freestyle: "I'm being sincere/When I say I haven't been here/In over ten years." He made up for lost time with a career-spanning selection of material, dipping into his work with Bad Meets Evil with a guest appearance from Royce da 5'9". A little later, he dedicated "Love the Way You Lie" to female audience members, making the un-gentlemanly query, "Ladies, where the FUCK you at?"
The highlight was a medley of his hits "My Name Is", "The Real Slim Shady", and "Without Me." Soon after that, he finished with an dynamite rendition of "Lose Yourself", with many onlookers opting not to lose themselves in the moment but instead attempt to capture it on their cell phones.
In hindsight, those shaky videos are bound to look terrible. If Eminem's fans had actually been watching the show, as opposed to watching the show through a phone, they would have seen Eminem put one hell of an exclamation mark on 2014's Squamish Valley Music Festival.