GZA, Killer Mike - The Observatory - September 28, 2012


GZA, Killer Mike
The Observatory
September 28, 2012

It is said that the  third time's the charm, and after  two less-than-stellar performances here in Orange County, we were betting on a third round sweep from Wu-Tang esteemed patriarch the GZA. The last couple times he was here, everything from the songs played to the scheduling seemed to be jumbled and lacking, and we were investing in a good heap of hope when we made our way to the Observatory on Friday night.  In the past, remarks have been made about the overall quality of shows from Wu-Tang members, but this was still the same artist that was a part of two undeniably classic albums, and one of hip-hop's most consistently dope emcees.

Whether or not the previous shows had been poor didn't seem to factor in our decision to see GZA live, as that inner feeling of being able to have a small, personal piece of Wu-Tang in your life isn't something you can easily brush to the side.

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Unlike last time, there was a more-than-worthy rapper added to the bill -- Atlanta's gruff, socially-conscious Killer Mike. Onstage, Killer Mike didn't waste a single second of the audience's time and used his vocals as a battling-ram to show-goers, serving as an example that people could be just as responsive to someone who wasn't a Wu-Tang member on a night that decidedly belonged to the clan. The initial lyrical salvo of "Big Beast" seemed to ignite every fan of his in the audience, even leading to a handful of adrenaline-addled people in the middle of the front to lay down the groundwork for a moshpit. At the end of his first song, he repeated its conclusive last lines railing against weak, watered-down dance music and proudly announcing his manifesto of real hip-hop, "not the sucker shit they play on TV." We couldn't have described the whole foundation of a Killer Mike set any better.  It could have been a staple of his such as  "Ric Flair" or something he spat on a more abberant production, such as Outkast favorite "The Whole World," but it was still the staunchly authentic, iron-fisted hip-hop that brought people to Wu-Tang shows in the first place.

Killer Mike finished his set, and all the preparations necessary for the GZA and his backing crew were made. Five minutes went by, five turned to ten, ten to fifteen, fifteen to twenty. There were sporadic, spirited screeches of "Wu!" "Wu-Tang!" and "GZA!" The bat-signals beckoning for the Wu-Tang to descend like killer bees were thrown into the air. Fog was filtered and flown into the air through a fan on the side. And, still, no sight of everyone's favorite rapping genius.  There were a couple uttered words on the mic that resonated from the speakers, but there wasn't anyone in sight. Finally, after what seemed like a full performance-worth of time, Shaolin's Liquid Swordsman emerged, clad in a slouching blue button-up and some plain blank pants. No frills, bells, whistles or hype-men; just one of hip-hop's genuine legends live in the flesh.

GZA seemed more alive and animated than in the past. He was constantly breaking into a smile, motioning to the crowd, giving daps, shaking hands, and interacting. Though the linguistic exercises he spouted were ornate and precise, he appeared a lot more human toward the fans. Each cut from "Liquid Swords" was given the type of energy and enthusiasm you would have expected from a younger GZA. For the majority of the set the crowd was unhinged unrestrained, moshing enough to make metal fans blush. GZA's ode to deceased clan-comrade Ol' Dirty Bastard sounded necessary and well-placed in his set, and felt like it was a long-loved part of the genius' live catalog.


There was nothing flashy about GZA's performance; it was a clear archetype of substance over style. The fans were frenzied and rowdy, but stayed contained and kept their lips synced to every word. GZA's songs were replicated exceptionally, and it felt like we were intimately experiencing a living, breathing part of the Wu-Tang world as opposed to a bombastic, larger-than-life production. The Wu-Tang Clan might not have a reputation for being the hip-hop community's favorite live act, but there's plenty of reason to continue shelling out the cash to see them when a part of their unit is swinging by. We look forward to the fourth time around, GZA.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Wu!" "Wu-Tang!" about three million times. We counted.

Random Notebook Dump: While the main room was crowded with Wu-Tang diehards, the Constellation Room looked like a sketch show scene parodying the club scene. Bro's, bottles, and blondes everywhere.

Critic's Bias: GZA's Liquid Swords is one the first hip-hop albums I listened to front-to-back.

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