Eminem and Rihanna perform on the The Monster Tour

Eminem and Rihanna perform on the The Monster Tour at the Rose Bowl on Thursday, August 7, 2014, in Pasadena, California.

Jeremy Deputat

Eminem & Rihanna's long-awaited Monster tour, which kicked off Aug. 7 in Los Angeles at a sold-out Rose Bowl, is billed as a co-headlining tour between the two music superstars, and the pair treated the show as if they were equals, starting and ending together. However, sharing the stage with Eminem is like playing one-on-one with LeBron James or acting with Daniel Day-Lewis. Eminem is, as he reminded everyone last weekend at Lollapalooza, one of the half dozen most compelling performers in music today.

That was evident from the outset of the show, which opens with a short Silence of the Lambs-inspired film that finds Sopranos star Michael Imperioli walking Rihanna down a San Quentin prison hall. As she saunters into a cell, just the back of Eminem’s head and trademark blonde hair appeared on the screen and the Rose Bowl crowd lost their collective minds.

Keeping with the motif in the opening “Numb,” Rihanna started the show on her own, only to have a platform rise on the side of the stage where Eminem, strapped to a stretcher a la Hannibal Lecter, emerged mid-song. Like the Jay-Z and Beyonce On The Run tour (both shows hit the Rose Bowl this week, coincidently) there is a fair amount of interaction between the two headliners.

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Following the robust ‘Numb,” the duo shared the stage for “No Love (Don’t Hurt Me)” and “Run This Town,” then again a few songs later for “Won’t Back Down.” There was a clear chemistry between them, especially on the between-song banter where Rihanna kept right up with Eminem. After he encouraged everyone to “Make Rihanna feel at home,” she answered right back, “Make some noise for this white motherfucker,” getting a lot of applause and laughs.

Following “Won’t Back Down,” the Rihanna portion of the night, which lasted for almost an hour, began with her highlighting her vocals on an impressive and impassioned “What Now.” The song was one of her highpoints, along with the gorgeous “Stay” and the reggae track “Man Down,” and the dance-heavy “Where Have You Been.”

The one drawback to Rihanna’s set, which admittedly had fans going crazy, was how produced it felt at times, with the numerous backup dancers joining her for choreographed moves on songs like “Cake” and “Rude Boy,” distracting from the performance. It’s hard to digest her pop polish when she’s on the same bill with someone as raw and intense as Eminem. Every time Marshal Mathers emerged on stage, he was a lightning rod for attention, like when he reappeared at the end of her set to join in on a stunning “Love The Way You Lie.”

After the song ended and Rihanna walked offstage, Eminem said simply, “California, let’s go!” And with that, the Monster tour went off. “Square Dance,” “Marshall Matters,” “Stan,” with Rihanna singing the Dido “Thank You” refrain,” an anthemic “The Way I Am,” “Berzerk” -- it was one knockout performance after another. And his lightning speed delivery on “Rap God” was simply jaw-dropping.

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At one point Eminem said to the crowd, “I am under the impression there are a lot of people under the influence of an illegal substance,” drawing lots of cheers. Mathers got an even bigger pop when he followed by saying, “If not, how many of you are just fucked up mentally? That’s why it feels like such a family.” All of this was a segue into a mix of songs that included the one-two punch of “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me,” which had the Rose Bowl literally exploding with firecrackers at the end of the set.

Just as Rihanna’s best moments came when she let her stage persona go and showed her warmth, Eminem shone as he introduced “I’m Not Afraid.” “This song I want to dedicate to anyone who ever lost anyone to addiction,” he said, referencing his own battles with the disease by adding, “I could not have gotten through it without you.”

Rihanna then returned for her encores, coming back for both “Diamonds” and “We Found Love,” before Eminem delivered “Lose Yourself.” Fittingly, the almost three-hour show ended with both performing “The Monster.”

Set List (+ both/ * Rihanna solo/ ** Eminem solo)

“Numb” +
“No Love (Don’t Hurt Me)” +
“Run This Town” +
“Live Your Life” *
“Crack a Bottle” **
“Won’t Back Down” +
“What Now” *
“Phresh Out the Runway” *
“Cake” *
“Talk That Talk” *
“Rude Boy” *
“What’s My Name?” (remixed with Trey Songz’ “Na Na”) *
“Pour It Up” *
“Cockiness (Love It)” *
“Man Down” *
“You Da One” *
“Wait Your Turn” *
“Jump” *
“Umbrella” *
“All of the Lights” *
“Rockstar 101″ * “Where Have You Been” *
“Stay” *
“Love the Way You Lie” +
“3 a.m.” **
“Square Dance” **
“Business” **
“My Dad’s Gone Crazy” **
“Evil Deeds” **
“Rap God” **
“Marshall Matters” **
“Still Don’t Give a F–k” **
“Criminal” **
“The Way I Am” **
“Airplanes” (Paramore cover) +
“Stan” +
“Like Toy Soldiers” **
“Forever” (Drake cover) **
“Berzerk” **
“Till I Collapse” **
“Cinderella Man” **
“The Real Slim Shady” **
“Without Me” **
“Not Afraid” **
“Diamonds” *
“We Found Love” (Acoustic & Regular Versions) *
“Lose Yourself” **
“The Monster” +