GZA Plays the Master at the Independent, 1/30/13
GZA at the Independent. Photos by the author.
Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013
GZA has absolutely nothing to prove to you, and he performs accordingly.
Last night, the smoky-voiced, smooth-rhymin' Genius of the Wu-Tang Clan stood over a whooping crowd at the Independent and gave the room exactly what it wanted: a thumping, lyric-heavy, boom-bap rap show, heavy on the hits and complete with the requisite amount of chaos. This did not appear to be a particularly taxing endeavor for the rapper born Gary Grice.
At first, roving nonchalantly around the stage in a gray hoodie, accompanied only by his DJ, the GZA seemed confused, a little mystified by his own presence. (He looked quizzically at the yellow six-pack of Anchor Steam onstage, but that didn't stop him from drinking a few.) The two flubbed the start of show opener "Duel of the Iron Mic" and had to start it over again. When he finally got going, the GZA proved somewhat hard to hear through the house mix, which contributed to a sense that he wasn't really trying to approach the vocal dexterity heard on his two best-known solo albums, 1995's Liquid Swords and 1999's Beneath the Surface. He seemed to have his foot only halfway down on the gas pedal.
Still, receiving the best of the GZA's early solo catalog in a crowded room, whose occupants were by now well primed with bud and beers, was a treat for a Wednesday night in San Francisco. Forgive us for putting it this way, but a Wu-Tang-affiliated show brings its own kind of raucous: stark, dark-hued and brutal. The GZA and his selector affirmed a particular tribal loyalty each time they paused, mid-song, to let the crowd bellow a line. Arms were raised and waved. No one hesitated.
With the arrival onstage of protege/hype-man Killah Priest -- who sounded hoarse, looked stoned, and wore an Adidas tracksuit with cartoon-sized letters -- GZA disappeared for a bit. He returned with a bit more energy, possibly relieved to not have to shoulder the show alone with whatever it is he has instead of charisma. Killah Priest bragged and otherwise vomited up words at the front of the stage, while the GZA hung back, dashing up for verses and hooks that shot through the room like smart bombs. He's better as the shadowy assassin, the secret weapon you bring up to kill 'em with vocabulary and speed. Or, as the rapper himself put it toward the end, "I'm the Osiris of this shit right here."
When he sent Killah Priest away for an unaccompanied freestyle, we briefly witnessed the GZA of legend: bending syllables around one another, lounging in the pocket of his self-kept rhythm, nestling together words that seemed impossibly cumbersome. The crowd bellowed and whooped in awe. The GZA just stood there, letting the rhymes cascade out, staring back at the crowd with an almost scolding look. Like, didn't we know he could do this all day?
With a side of "C.R.E.A.M.": After working through much of his solo material, the GZA and Killah Priest ended the show with a medley of Wu-Tang hits, which riled the crowd to impossible excitement. There was, of course, a moment of reverent near-silence for Ol' Dirty, as the GZA called him.
Speaking of riling the crowd: It's pretty easy this week in San Francisco. Just mention anything related to the 49ers: Niners, Super Bowl, Kaepernick, etc. Even better, talk shit on Baltimore.
Equipto: We arrived to find S.F. rapper Equipto romping around the stage, furiously waving a white towel and issuing conscious rhymes to an appreciative crowd. He closed out with booster anthem "Heart & Soul," which contains a hilarious refrain that we will attempt to spell as "errrrrrryyyyyyy."