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.


Greg said...

Hmm, I remember you telling me about this. In the end, I'm glad you still got to see your Genius dude live, though.

kendra said...

That sounds great. I only saw GZA at Rock the Bells two years ago, but he did do Liquid Swords (the song, not full album). I really want to see him do the full album live. Listening to his other albums doesn't really cut it for me, anyway.

If the rumors are true, I think I may go to see Ghostface at Tufts next week but that is TBD. Killa bees swarm!

reinstein said...

Its why i don't like mainstream shows, man...mad bullshit and waiting for no reason.

Mr. Mike said...

Yeah...typical Wu-Tang hit-or-miss live show. They can be on fire when they are in a good mood...or sleepwalk when they are bored. I think that generally GZA brings a bit less energy to the stage than some of the others (Ghost and Meth primarily.) He's the lyricist man...more the guy you gotta sit back and listen to what he has to say. Not really the party starter that the others are so it doesn't translate into quite as dynamic of a live show.

And the new album is...well...a tad dull.

Zilla Rocca said...

I was at this shit, yo! It was one of the most sublime performances I've ever seen--I've never seen a guy command an entire crowd with his hand in his pocket for 85% of the show.