GZA at the Detroit Bar Last Night

GZA at the Detroit Bar Last Night

GZA performing Liquid Swords
August 24, 2011

Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa

The last time The Genius performed at the Detroit Bar, one year ago, it was a test of patience for anyone but the most dedicated of Wu-Tang fans. Last April, our Music Editor reported back with a rather tepid review when the GZA showed up almost 45 minutes before closing time, and even then, he didn't quite show up all the way. When I discovered that GZA would return to Orange County again to perform his 1995 classic Liquid Swords, I was willing to risk another late appearance by the rapper for the chance to hear his lyrical gifts in person.

Out of the nine original members of the Wu-Tang Clan, co-founder GZA is often considered the most talented and versatile lyricist. Lacking the theatrical stage presence of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard or the eccentric verbal tics of Ghostface Killah, the GZA boasts a more understated vocal style that adeptly layers wordplay and battle raps against hardcore beats. His sophomore record, 

Liquid Swords

, is widely considered a nineties classic, boasting stylized production by Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA and devastating rhymes about New York street life.

Liquid Swords was a monumental accomplishment, but its critical and commercial acclaim has perhaps unfairly cast a large shadow over GZA's later works, including his last major release, 2008's underrated Pro Tools. Over the years, the GZA has demonstrated a workmanlike ability to deliver on his talents, but the rap game, like any other field, has a way of edging out the old in favor of new blood. Can The Genius, having just turned 45 this past Monday, still compete in a genre now being staked out by young imitators like Odd Future? After last night's show, I'd have to say yes and no.

Allaying my fears of another late show, the GZA promptly arrived on stage at a reasonable hour, slashing away into the opening songs of Liquid Swords. The Detroit Bar had sold out of tickets for the performance, and the crowd extended from the stage all the way to the venue's back lounge, where the show was only visible through grainy video footage being played across television monitors above the bar. So dedicated were the GZA fans in the audience that many seemed perfectly content with just standing in the same room as The Genius, let alone seeing him in person.

Overall, the Wu-Tang legend, helped along by his hype man, put on a satisfactory performance of his classic record. Yet while the GZA's rhymes have always been dextrous and scorching, his physical energy on stage didn't quite match up as a counterpart. At 45, GZA might be considered a senior citizen of rap. During certain songs, the rapper looked visibly worn out, and toward the end of the show, he stumbled off the stage before regaining his composure and finishing off the set. As this occurred, the audience seemed unperturbed as they chanted "Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang!" in unison.

For the Wu-Tang faithful, the GZA is incorruptible, and in considering the rapper's career or Liquid Swords alone, that might very well be true. But last night, I found myself yearning for a little more energy and hunger from the stage, even if it meant sacrificing a little bit of polish or mastery in the music. Which is to say that what I might have been expecting on stage was a piece of the '90s and all the excitement and novelty of an earlier Wu-Tang Clan, back when they were the vanguard rather than the standard. Nevertheless, the GZA is still The Genius, and legends, especially the Wu-Tang kind, die hard.

Critic's Bias: I love the Wu-Tang Clan. The GZA could've farted into the mic and I still would've thought it was all right.

The Crowd: Hip-hop shows are usually dominated by dudes (unless you're at a Drake concert). Last night was no exception.

Overheard in the Crowd (via Twitter): There sure are an awful lot of whites for being a gza show!

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