Concert Review: GZA

Yo, you remember back in the day?…Back in the good old days…when the MCs caaame to live out the naaame…well the good old days are here and now as GZA and the crew come to London to perform the masterpiece that is ‘Liquid Swords’…memories in the corners of my mind – flashbacks, I was laughin’ all the time…

Date: 9th December 2007

Venue: KOKO, Camden, London.

In Attendance: Myself, Tes, & Christian.

Occasion: GZA takes us through the Liquid Swords chamber.

“Keep your temper. Never lose control of yourself. Be patient. If you learn to do these things, you can master anything.”

With this sage advice in mind we are just about able to withstand the awful awful DJ spinning as we jostle for position inside the venue. This guy is playing some Wu but he is messing around with his own remixes – never once looking up to gage crowd reaction he is playing like he is alone in his bedroom…although considering that any diligent DJ spends many hours doing just that I suggest that this fool take a page from their book and come back in a few years!

Shire Knights move in a 7, we move in an L…in this case it is Tes, our man from Mordor, who executes the perfect L-plan attack which results in us taking up our squares, four rows from the front at dead centre stage! My happiness is partially deflated when some clown comes and stands right in front of me (plus, as a basketball player I am rather jealous of anyone who hits 6’4” before they’ve even started shaving!). I feel slightly bad for taking the piss when the Disc Jokey plays some plinky-blinky-bleep-bleep BULLSHIT and this character starts jerking around uncontrollably…the man is clearly ill! Thankfully this all ends when – as Tes predicts – the DJ literally runs off stage to shouts of “Wu” and “boo”.

‘Legend of the Liquid Sword’

If you are Living in the World Today you know GZA is the lyrical Swordsman of the Wu-Tang Clan who dropped the Gold standard album Liquid Swords. Outside tonight it is a Cold World, but inside the 4th Chamber it is hot as Hell’s Wind Staff because The Genius is performing the entire album from front to back. The soundman is a figure that has gotten it in the unprotected neck even more than the Labels throughout the history of Hip-Hop so one would be forgiven for expecting a round of Shadowboxin’ as the sound is consistently terrible. However Killah Hills 10304 is the parish of Killah Priest and GZA has evidently taken on board the Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth so on this night he chooses patience and peace over a Dual of the Iron Mic. If you weren’t in the house yourself fear not, I Gotcha Back, you know that my Investigative Reports leave nothing Unexplained.

‘Beneath the Surface’

“When the MCs caaame…”

The Genius, Killah Priest, Dreddy Kruger and “back up DJ” City Rich bring the classic album to life; GZA at times is a one man Clan flipping darts by RZA, Meth and Masta Killa as he puts flesh on the Hollow Bones of RZA’s classic soundscape. One thing to note is that, strange as it sounds, GZA’s delivery sometimes detracts from the performance. His rhymes are powerful and delivered from deep inside, yet they are also understated and incredibly slick – often it takes half a bar or more for a line to truly sink in – all these aspects make him incredible in the headphones but somehow cause the live action to lack a little impact (not aided by the poor sound quality). This is reflected in the behaviour of the crowd – we get rowdy when the beat drops (I know I saw Christian doing his fair share of shoving!) but quieten down throughout the song, simply because we are trying to catch every word! Thankfully just appreciation is shown as each song comes to a close.

‘Words from The Genius’

After Killah Priest closes the album with the outstanding B.I.B.L.E we move into a new chamber, and the second half of the show couldn’t be more different…shit is unbalanced, like elephants and ants on see-saws.

However, before the talk he gives it to us raw and rugged like slave man boots with classic tracks such as ‘Clan In Da Front’ and ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ fucking up new recruits.

The bottle of brandy set out at the start of the show is getting low and with it GZA is getting loose, with plenty of time left before we get kicked out he is happy to spend some quality time with the fans…particularly the front row, with whom he comes and stands with for the majority of the show! At first heads swarm like iron fillings around this ultra magnetic MC but he reminds us that he is a normal person just like us, in fact “we are all celebrities”!

Many more jewels of wisdom and comedy gems proceed to follow the oft uttered declaration “I just wanna make a point…”

Predictably, and understandably, the state of Hip-Hop is a topic of discussion and the diagnosis is not positive, at a prompt from an audience member we get a “Fuck soldier boy” and “fuck 50 Cent”, in fact “Curtis, you may have a lotta money, but you ain’t got talent!”…everybody smile: “we on YouTube!”

All this is pretty funny stuff but I listen to Wu to make me forget these fake MCs and indeed that anything ails the genre at all, so it is after an a cappella rendition of ‘All In Together Now’ which kicks off an ODB tribute that I am left wishing GZA would invoke a little more of his late cousin’s spirit:

“Introducing, yo fuck the n!gga name! My Hip-Hop drops on your head like raaain, and when it raains it pours, I give you more of the raw ‘cos my rhymes hardcore, the talent that I got will riz-ock the spot, MCs I be burnin’ – burnin’ hot!”

Music is still a part of the show and the GZA is open to requests, the trouble is he rarely gets round to performing them, getting sidetracked instead by boxing banter – to end the Mayweather/Hatton back and forth between MCs and crowd he offers £100 for a fan of each fighter to come and fight on stage.

He does get round to a few songs…or parts of them…Animal Planet, performed as it is with only every 10th word, goes down particularly well.

“Yeah, I forgot my words…so what?! You forget shit everyday!”

A request to freestyle is also dismissed: “Who said freestyle?! You forget I’m a Genius?…99% of off the top shit is WACK”

As Killah Priests background beat box provides one of the crispest rhythms of the night GZA confusedly calls to City Rich to turn it down, drawing bemused looks and laughs all round.

“What month is this?! I’m having so much fun I lost track of time”

And so it goes on for some time, until, in fact, it is time for us to ‘Breaker, Breaker’ break the hell outta there.

“After the Laughter…”

Despite how it may come across it has been a hugely enjoyable show, mostly because we have experienced a hitherto unseen side of one of the Clan’s most enigmatic members, who knew the stone faced expression was so often exchanged for a sly grin and a witty, dry humour? That the mystique shrouds a genuine desire to mix with his equals the people who come to support Wu-Tang forever? The genes shared with ODB become more evident during the drunken foolery, and none of this detracts from his hugely powerful presence, especially as he grips the chrome microphone to perform his legendary classics.

Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game indeed…the saga continues…W.U.T.A.N.G…W.U.T.A.N.G…

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