Before reviewing the show at the Observatory on Friday night, let’s go over a few obvious statements:
- GZA is one of the best rappers in one of the best rap groups of all time.
- Much like the rest of Wu-Tang Clan, GZA will always do things his way.
- For anyone who grew up on ‘90s New York hip hop, the nine original members of Wu-Tang Clan (and maybe Cappadonna) will forever be legends regardless of age.
With all that said, GZA put on the weirdest and most disjointed show by any Wu-Tang member I’ve ever seen. Scheduled to begin at 11:30, GZA didn’t take the stage until nearly 12:30 a.m. Shortly before midnight, the crowd began alternating between booing the DJ and chanting “Wu-Tang” as those who’d filled the venue for the last several hours began to grow weary of the rapper’s delay.
Through the early part of his set, something about GZA seemed off. His timing, his flow, his technical issues with the DJ, it just didn’t seem like the GZA of old (or even the one who visits the Observatory every few months). Tracks like “Duel of the Iron Mic,” “Living in the World Today,” “Gold,” and even “Cold World” just didn’t have the same bite as they do on Liquid Swords or in past performances.
While other Wu-Tang OG’s tend to bring some of the group’s strongest affiliates to make sure the other members’ verses and features sound just as crisp as they did in ‘93, all but one of GZA’s supporting cast often seemed more content to watch than to grab a microphone.
After a quick reminder that Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthing ta fuck wit, GZA began to hit a bit of a stride. His verse on “4th Chamber” sounded better than those that came before it, and even the Method Man verse on “Shadowboxin’” seemed more like old Wu rather than a man closing in on 50 trying to keep up with his younger self. “I Gotcha Back” and “Swordsman” both kept the late night going before things got just a little bit weird again.
Following a struggle with the DJ to get the beat paused for a minute, GZA dropped an acapella verse of “Clan in Da Front” before allowing the music to come back in for the chorus. GZA then decided to perform his first solo track of the night that wasn’t from his legendary Liquid Swords with “Crash Your Crew” off of Beneath the Surface.
It was then when GZA and his DJ seemed to realize the root of their problems, as apparently the DJ couldn’t hear GZA at all. Although there were still a few mishaps after that moment, switching mics with one of the other affiliates seemed to solve the bulk of the miscommunication errors. An alternate version of “Older Gods” (complete with two other — although unimpressive — rappers) and a bit of Raekwon’s “Guillotine (Swordz)” followed, although GZA seemed more concerned with signing autographs during his verse of the latter.
GZA did a bit of a compilation tribute to ODB, featuring pieces of tracks like “All In Together Now,” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” before asking “How many of y’all love ODB?” to a huge applause. GZA began to find his rhythm again for tracks like “Legend of the Liquid Sword” and “Mic Trippin,” but it was already after 1:00 a.m., and many of the less diehard fans (or those who had to work Saturday morning) began to clear out. Even mixing in a little bit of “Triumph” had trouble getting much of the crowd excited once again.
“Knock, Knock” preceded GZA’s longest monologue of the night, during which he pointed into the crowd and began talking to someone before explaining “That’s the thing about being onstage. You can point at an imaginary motherfucker. He don’t even exist.” The Brooklyn-born legend then followed up with an apology of sorts for his tardiness. “I know y’all was waiting for a while. I’m in this motherfucker like six times a year. Most of you know the whole show by now.”
As much awkwardness as there was at the beginning of the show, GZA was visibly looser by the end of the set. “Labels” flowed out as well as it ever has, and the second bit of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit” was a lot more convincing than its earlier piece. “Protect Ya Neck” sounded as good as it could with only GZA performing it, while one of his classics (“Liquid Swords”) and one of his newest tracks (“The Mexican”) both sounded intelligent and dangerous in a way only GZA could.
Many fans missed the last couple of songs, as GZA’s performance of “0% Finance” occurred as much of the audience bailed just before 1:30. Those who left missed one of the strangest moments of the show, as GZA closed the set with an acapella version of his “Big Bang Rap” off of his long-awaited next album, Dark Matter. “I’ve been working on it for several years, so I’m gonna close it with this shit.”
And closed it with that shit he did, no matter how few people were there to see it.
The night was awkward, imperfect, and ran entirely too late, but you really can’t hate on any of the original Wu-Tang members. If you want a fun, entertaining Wu show, go see Ghostface or Raekwon. If you want one that’ll leave you wondering about space, time, and what you just saw, GZA is still your man.
To the El Chapo-looking dude in front of me: I understand you need space to throw up the W with your pudgy arms, but a concert isn’t the place to bug out on people for being too close to you.