Thursday, September 25, 2008

Even Geniuses Get Old: GZA Live in Philly, 9/11/08

So, I went to see GZA live in Philly exactly two weeks ago. It was to be my first Wu concert. I would have all of 10 minutes the next morning to study for my quiz on African geography, plenty of enough time as long as I could witness the Genius in action.

And now that I've been, I'm not sure that I'd go to another GZA show.

Let's start from the beginning. Trocadero opened its doors at 9 PM, but in anticipation of a late set, I had dinner with friends and got to Tracadero around 10. I was expecting the place to be flooded with the likes of UPenn hipsters, but I was surprised to find lots of working class white dudes in their place. There were also lots of younger black and latino kids, which was nice to see. So the Wu does have a diverse group of people who still care about them, but they just don't care enough to buy their records anymore.

Anyway, some generic, local undie group (I think they were called The Sharpest Blades?) was on stage, warning the audience not to front, talk smack behind their back, etc. All of the shows that I've been to in Philly in the past year have featured similarly unremarkable groups, which is disappointing considering the number of talented artists I've heard out of the city. Though I was impressed by how many aspiring rappers came to the show just to peddle their demos onto the crowd. Some MC named Burke gave me a copy of his CD 'Demolisten,' with a cover featuring an album collapsing and a picture of him placing headphones on. Still haven't listened to it yet, lest I end up like the building.

After a bunch of more subpar local performances, the stage was invaded by Killa Bees(!!!!!!!) around 10:45. They were a notch above the rappers that preceded them, though most failed to seriously impress besides one whose name I unfortunately can't remember. After about 15 minutes of them on stage, Killah Priest came out and ripped it. I'm not familiar with any of his stuff outside of "B.I.B.L.E," but his command on the mic made him a joy to listen to. He was backed by these thudding, grimey-yet-not-in-a-boring-way beats that started to get the place live.

Killah Priest on stage, courtesy of Natan Potler (as are all subsequent photos)

Once he got off stage, I was pumped, as was the rest of the crowd. The arguable best and most important Wu-Affiliate (not counting Cappadonna) had just rocked the mic, and GZA was surely to follow after, right? That's what any person would've figured anyhow, but instead, these two short kids named Folk & Stress (apparently brothers) came on, and while they were serviceable (more hardcore undie rap, but with relatively interesting production), their name is one of the corniest I've heard in rap (what a feat) and were nowhere near as good as Killah Priest. And besides, two and a half hours had past and the GZA was still a no show.

My sense of time at this point is kinda distorted, but I don't think they were on for too long. After they bounced, the DJ put on some random tracks for what felt like an eternity, until the Shogun Assassin skit from "Liquid Swords" finally came on a little before midnight.

Everyone went nuts, of course, and a sea of Ws went into the air, and then GZA came out and everyone was rapping along and jumping in the air and holy shit, Liquid Swords sounds GREAT when being performed live. RZA's beats sounded almost entirely different over the booming soundsystem. GZA wasn't jumping all over the stage or anything, but he was still visibly energized, commandingly rapping both his and others' verses on most tracks like "Duel of the Iron Mic" and "Cold World." Interestingly, he tried to avoid using the n-word in the beginning of the show, replacing it with "brotha," although he kinda gave up in the middle. I wonder if it's a general thing for him or if he was prompted to do so by the white audience.


But as I said, the Liquid Swords portion of his set was epic, aside from a slight technical disruption during "4th Chamber," and I've been blasting "I Gotcha Back" pretty consistently ever since the show. It was a great feeling when Killah Priest came out and finished things off with "B.I.B.L.E."

Things got a little dicey for him soon afterward, though. He did "Clan in da Front" and a few other Wu classics, which was great, then started going into the rest of his discography. I hadn't heard most of the tracks, save for "Animal Planet" and another I forget, but it was still obvious that his energy level had fallen. He kept telling the DJ to "slow it down," sometimes he'd walk off and Killah Priest would finish verses for him, etc. Although he kept promoting Pro Tools in the middle of his set, he waited until the very end to actually start performing tracks off of it. I'd been waiting for "0% Finance" all night, but by that point, he was obviously too tired to flow for the 4 straight minutes that the song would've required him to. He did "Groundbreaking" and "Paper Plates," but stuff like "Columbian Ties" or "Life is a Movie" or even "Pencil" would've translated better live than the 50 diss, I think. He peaced after those two tracks, a bit after 1 AM.

And that was that. While the first half of his set was incredible and the second part was solid (allowing for the pauses), I can't believe that it took 3 hours for the dude to come out on stage. I know he likes showing love to other aspiring rappers, but there's only so much you can do for guys named Folk & Stress, you know? I'd recommend the set to those that can see it, but go two hours late.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Let The Good TImes Roll: New DOOM?, New Organized Konfusion?, RJD2 Live

As I predicted, it's incredibly difficult for me to motivate myself to write while I'm here. There's ALWAYS work you can be doing, people you should be seeing, and I'm not allowing myself to get less than 7 hours of sleep a night on weeknights, and most college sophmores are not really the most thoughtful bunch on weekends. But there'll be a slew of interesting concerts coming up (GZA is performing Liquid Swords in Philly tomorrow), and I'll be starting my radio show in about a week and a half, so hopefully I'll be more inspired. Give me suggestions as to formats/ideas/themes for a show if you have any interesting ones, please!

Wow, this is a real shocker. A new DOOM (apparently he dropped the MF) album in six weeks with Dilla and Danger Mouse production? I'm a little skeptical about whether this will be a legit release with all original material, but I still can't help but be a little excited. I find the whole live-show impostor situation to be just as fucked as most people, his status as a "villain" notwithstanding, but at least this doesn't mean the dude is sick and that other people are just running around with his mask. The chances of Madvillainy 2 and/or Swift and Changeable coming out have also gone up from about 1 to 2 percent, as DOOM is at least showing us that he's still interested in recording.

Also just discovered today that Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch have recorded a new (as of now unreleased) track that may lead to a new Organized Konfusion album, which would be one of the greatest things I could ever hope for. I was listening to The Equinox before the end of summer, and even though people tend to shit on it, I don't think they really fell off from Stress (production just got a little more stale). This should be ill.

In other random news, RJD2 came to my school this past Saturday and opened for Broken Social Scene for this semester's "Large Scale Event." Even though generic indie rock is the usual order at Olde Club, our regular music venue (last year we only had The Last Emperor; this semester, there is NO hip-hop billed), the LSE's have been surprisingly good. The Roots were the LSE performers my first semester, and they were absolutely dopeilltastic. I even got to speak to Black Thought and shake his hand, and I spent the rest of the night running around campus throwing little girls into foliage out of sheer excitement.

Now, I didn't react to RJD2 in quite the same way, but he was also damn awesome. He surprisingly wasn't crouched over a laptop (not just mashup guys, but even Afrika Bambaataa was using a Mac when I saw him this summer), but actually had crates of vinyl with him that he played over four turntables. No microphone or acoustic guitar to be seen in his vicinity, thankfully. There was also a screen behind him where all of these weird, kinda corny but still really cool video clips were playing as he was spinning records from The Transporter, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Matrix, and even that old 80s orders-of-magnitude movie that every person who has taken high school physics has seen (the one with the guy and girl sleeping at the picnic). Stuff like that usually comes off as gimmicky, but I mention it because I think it really contributed to the performative aspect of the show and the sense that RJD2 wasn't taking himself too seriously.

So the show basically consisted of him recreating his tracks on Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke. But there was a bit of an improvisitory element to the show too, though, as he had some pad-keyboard device that allowed him to play drums over his instrumentals. He also had a good feel for when the crowd was beginning to fade away, throwing on "The Horror" and "Good Times Roll Pt. 2" to get everyone, and I mean everyone, really hype again. I've been saying that live DJ sets should be brought here for a long time, especially considering the amount of okayish mashup artists that've come through, and hopefully people will begin to see the light.

Anyway, I didn't stay for Broken Social Scene because I wasn't too thrilled by what I'd heard prior to the show, although I kinda regret that decision now. The two minutes of their show I heard (I returned for my umbrella) were really good, but I was about to embark on a misadventure involving high friends and Wendy's, so...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Auditions Being Held At Swarthmore for Musical: 'Written in the Stars'

I don't know how many people in the Tri-Co community read this, but I wanted to put this opportunity out there for anyone who'd be interested. Charles Inniss, class of 2009 and a good friend of mine, is directing a musical titled Written in the Stars that will be open to all students in Tri-Co (Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr) to audition for and watch. He is a very earnest, driven, and talented guy, and considering all of his past musical work that I've heard, I have high hopes for this being something great. Listen to one of the songs for yourself (you'll be just as impressed, believe me). Here's what he has to say about the project:

"The musical, titled Written in the Stars, is an original that my brother and I wrote.

It's a tale of disillusion. Eddie Hollman moves to a new community and starts his senior year at a performance high school. There he studies movement theater and gets chummy with a girl that lives next door. Throughout the show we learn about Eddie's turbulent past as he tries to break from a clown that haunts him and discover his destiny that's written in the stars.

Attached are advertisements for the show's auditions. Audition dates are Saturday, September 6th from 11am-1:00 pm, and Sunday, September 7th from 4:30-7:30 pm. Because this is a show that heavily involves movement, there will be a dance call on Sunday, September 7 also from 4:30-7:30 pm. All auditions will be held in Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College.

Thanks a lot, and I sincerely hope this clarifies any concerns. Please feel free to sign-up for an audition time posted in Parrish. Also email me at to continue this dialogue regarding the show's casting and vision. I look forward to seeing you at auditions!


Charles Inniss"