There are approximately eight people currently in hip-hop who could perform at just about any mid-sized venue in America at 11:10 p.m. on a Wednesday and absolutely no one would complain. Ghostface Killah is one of them (along with RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa).
Although the show was originally supposed to be on Monday, Ghostface's mid-week set at the Observatory in Santa Ana was everything you'd expect from one of the eight living original Wu-Tang Clan members.
A packed crowd raised their W's to the sky as Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest opened the set with a couple of his own tunes, including "New Reality," before taking on his role for the night as a Raekwon impersonator as he introduced Ghostface with the classic "Criminology" off of the 20-year-old Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album.
Once Ghostface, complete with hoodie and hat pulled down nearly to his eyes, finished the first song, he paused to tell the adoring audience (which seemed to be comprised of people of all races, ages, and backgrounds) that he'd just finished an 80-day tour, so he needed everyone to bring the energy for him to feed off.
Given the loud and aggressive delivery that's made Ghostface's music so recognizable, it was no surprise that the crowd immediately was riled up for the Wu-Tang songs early in the set, from Raekwon's "Ice Cream" to "Fish" and "The Grain" from Ghostface's Ironman and Supreme Clientele, respectively.
As Ghostface continued with tracks like "Apollo Kids" and "We Celebrate," the crowd was still entertained, but it became clear that a good portion of the audience only had a most basic knowledge of Wu-Tang's catalog, and wasn't quite as excited to hear Ghostface's solo stuff as much as they would be for some of the group's legendary tracks.
It was nice to see Priest get to use some of his verses rather than just playing Raekwon all night, as he broke into his bars from GZA's "Beneath the Surface," with Ghostface playing the hypeman for a brief time before the duo switched back into Ghostface's "Black Jesus" and "Wildflower."
Overall, the set kept a nice pace throughout, mixing in the rest of Wu-Tang's work between classics from Ghostface's robust catalog of music. The Staten Island legend also took a moment to insist that the sound guy crank the speakers and monitors all the way up, so the crowd could get their money's worth, The volume never seemed to increase, but it was good for effect regardless of the outcome.
Roughly a half-dozen Ghostface (and Raekwon, as played by Priest) tracks later, the crowd finally got what it was looking for, and it became the best moment of the night.
Ghostface asked who in the audience knew ODB's part of "Protect Ya Neck," and about a quarter of the people there gave an affirmative response. Upon clarifying that he wanted someone to come up and rap the late ODB's lines, a few dozen hands shot up within a few rows of the stage. Ghostface selected a young woman diagonally off to the side of the stage, who then joined the duo on stage and rapped a few of ODB's bars to Ghostface to confirm she could do it.
With ODB's part covered, they still needed Method Man's portion done. After a few different guys tried and failed at the slightly more obscure verse, Ghostface decided his new female assistant would do Method Man's part in addition to ODB's.
Did the lady sound exactly like ODB or Method Man? No. But she killed it in front of a suddenly energized crowd on a level that most local rappers wouldn't even be able to do. Even Ghostface and Priest were impressed.
To keep the momentum of the crowd going, Ghostface and Priest jumped into ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" before running it straight into "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit" and "C.R.E.A.M." (which predictably got the biggest crowd response of the night).
The night ended well after midnight with a somewhat (understandably) tired crowd and the duo going off on excellent versions of "Cherchez La Ghost," "Reunited," and (of course) "Triumph" before Ghostface signed some autographs at the merch table and Priest kept the music going straight into the afterparty.
The guy with facial tattoos who was preaching about not understanding how a new rapper like Future could sell out a show with $30 tickets while there were still a few available for Ghostface at $7 a piece was totally amazing.
Wu-Tang Clan is universal, eternal, and all-encompassing. It's also one of the only concerts you can where the group's merch to the show itself without looking super lame.