Last Night: GZA in Austin (Cuz We Missed Him in Houston)
"I'm going to die face down in an alley tomorrow." That's pretty much all I could think about during last night's concert in Austin at the Parish, when I thought I would have to give the GZA a negative review. For half the set, the Genius was moving slow, dropping syllables, relying too much on crowd fill-in. Sad as I was to see the Wu's best lyricist struggling with his own lines, the real concern, I have to admit, was for my own life. You don't try the G.O.D.; he'll change your name to John Doe, separate you from your small intestines, etc. But I was saved midway through the set, when GZA stopped the music for approximately the 10th time that night to ask his backing band, the Fyre Department, to slow down the pace a little, and finally just stop. It was the band's fault. Thank God.
Sure it seems like a cop-out to put all the blame on a band of scrawny white dudes who won't Flying Guillotine my ass, but check it out: When the band quit playing, the Genius attacked an a capella version of "General Principles" and didn't miss a beat. He gets credit for the effort, but the live band doesn't suit him. When the Fyre Department came out to sound check, looking like Rhode Island's third best Phish cover band, people started nervously looking around. GZA‘s gonna be here, right? As awkward as it was, beardy bassist Eric Krazno's constant throwing up the W at least let us know we were in the right place.
Hell, when GZA took the mic, it almost seemed like he was confused about the setup . The band, in addition to going too fast, was mixed too loud, keeping GZA nearly unintelligible. GZA's flow is more slam poetry than Rage Against the Machine, so songs like "Animal Planet" and "Queen's Gambit" that rely more on witty word play than fast and loud delivery ended up tripping him up, making him stop to catch his breath and verbally force the band to slow the tempo down. So the GZA's best strength as an MC, all those dense, polysyllabic rhymes started working against him. Better were the older Wu-Tang tracks ("Bring Da Ruckus," "CREAM") whose raw style actually translates pretty well to a harder backbeat. Of course parts of the concert had a strange vibe for reasons I unfortunately can't blame on the band. GZA literally stopped the show at one point to challenge anyone in the audience to freestyle battle then, after getting several takers, dismissed freestyle as shit. He also said that Red Bull is full of carcinogens and honored Ol' Dirty Bastard by singing the chorus to "Got Your Money" for a period of what seemed like several months. But the a capella verses seemed to clear his head, and by show closer "Gold" he actually seemed to have gotten the hang of the whole rock band thing. Undoubtedly better though, will be his sans band appearance in Chicago. Of course you have to pay for that one.
Personal Bias: Do you think my pasty white ass could pull off a "'Bout to set off something more deep than a misdemeanor" tattoo?
Random Detail: GZA, after the show, on playing older songs: "Those are songs that we have on the albums, and we have to do them on tour, because that's what people want to hear."
By the way: Austin was the last stop on the Scion tour. GZA will perform Liquid Swords in its entirety as part of the Pitchfork Fest's opening concert in Chicago July 13.
-- Jeremy Martin