LIVE REVIEW: GZA 22/04/2011

27 04 2011

Live at Moho, Manchester

Review by Jack Carolan 

Me:  “Hi, I’m on the presslist” 

Mr Charlie Big Potatoes: “No you’re not” 

Me:  “Could you just check?” 

Mr Charlie Big Potatoes: “All the press are in and I didn’t put you down.  I’m the promoter.  I run the show” 

Me (a bit flustered, showing him my phone):  “But look, I have a text message here saying I have a plus one.  I think it was organised with the venue” 

Mr. Charlie Big Potatoes:  “I’m the promoter.  I’m running the show.  There is no venue press list.  The best I can do is put you down on the £12 list” 

Me:  “Could you get someone from the venue?” 

Mr Charlie Big Potatoes:  “There’s no one from the venue here” 

I get that look on my face like a child who momentarily loses his mum in the crowd when shopping in the city centre.  A last ditch attempt; I show him the phone again: 

Me:  “Here, this is the website…” 

Mr Charlie Big Potatoes:  “Just get in and get the fuck away from me” 

Ooooh.  How Hip-hop!  When this guy’s in your hood you better run.  For real, yo!  A real life, straight-up Avon Barksdale.  It’s Good Friday, and I find myself, as I sometimes do at times of extreme annoyance, turning to God: 

“Dear God, I know I only go to mass at Weddings and Funerals, and I had a bacon butty today instead of fish, but if Al-Qaida ever try to fly planes into the City Hall, could you please make them miss and fly into that bloke’s face.  Amen.” 

A couple of local hip-hop crews are warming up.  Typical of local hip-hop crews, it’s all a bit, what Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer, might call ‘stock’.  Still, there’s a contingent of mates down the front who seem to know the tunes and are singing/rhyming along.  Manchester, from the early 80s to the present day, has had a strong presence of graffiti artists, breakers, beat-boxers, rappers and turntablists.  Since the arrival of the first early electro records individuals and groups here, like Greg Wilson, The Hit Squad, Sefton Madface, and the Ruthless Rap Assassins have taken hip-hop culture and run with it, and it’s heartening to see quite a pure form of music-based sub-culture still alive and thriving.  For the last, say twenty years, hip-hop has become a commercial, globally hegemonic musical force, with the funky drummer and the Amen break becoming a type of pop musical default setting, and it’s partly for this reason that on the hip-hop scale, with one being The Archbishop of Canterbury and ten being a party at Suge Knights house with ho’s, blunts and pimps, I’m about two and a half.  But as a musical force it is undeniably important and testament to this is the fact that it remains in certain places, a cohesive culture based around graffiti, turntablism, mcs and break-dancing, so precious to those purists who preserve it.  

And they’re out in force tonight.  Long before GZA emerges the whole crowd is chanting “Wu-Tang”.  A key element to a gig like this working is a good crowd of hardcore fans who know all the words and who can throw them back on cue.  This is the case tonight.  When the ‘Shogun’ intro from Liquid Swords (“When I was young, my father was famous…”) announces GZA’s arrival, I’m instantly transported back to my room in Halls.  There’s lots of stuff from Liquid Swords tonight, and it feels like a trip into my past, remembering little lines and phrases I’d forgotten I knew:  “when the MCs came/ to live out their name/ to snort cocaine/ to a insane…”  As a student I had three hip-hop albums: Niggaz 4 Life by NWA, Fear of A Black Planet by Public Enemy, and Liquid Swords by GZA.  I can’t remember if it was Liquid Swords or Niggaz 4 Life, but a friend of mine, when he was a teenager, put one of them on in the car with his Dad.  His Dad listened for a bit, looked at the tape deck, looked at him, and then pressed eject and threw the tape out the window.  That’s a true story.  

Liquid Swords, a collaborative work between GZA and RZA, but featuring all seven other Wu-Tang members, reckoned to be one of the all time hip-hop greats, melding kung-fu movie samples with raw sounding production with samples taken from sources as disparate as The Bar-Kays to Zappa.  But it’s GZA’s lyrical dexterity that stands out.  And it’s a dexterity that he has no problem demonstrating live: with just him, a DJ and a wing man stage right, it’s like the whole crew manifest in one man.  And he’s fast too.  It just doesn’t let up, his flow flawless.  I check my watch about forty minutes in and wonder when he stopped for breath- obviously a master of circular breathing.  He runs through ‘Shadowboxing’, a couple from 36 Chambers, ‘Living in the World Today’, like a consummate pro.  He plays the crowd like a master, a hardcore crew of black-clad Wu-Tang fans at the back, heads nodding, finishing every couplet.  Towards the end, as a crowd pleaser, he even throws in Ol Dirty Bastard’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’.  Despite my distaste for a lot of phoney hip-hop nonsense that’s infiltrated mainstream culture, it’s hard not to get sucked in.  Done well, hip-hop is powerful stuff.  And GZA does it so very, very well.

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