“GZA, touch me.”
During a brief pause between “Cold World” and “Labels,” tracks five and six of GZA’s haunting, yet grimly funny 1995 masterpiece Liquid Swords, I saw out of the corner of my eye a hand zip by my head, reaching toward The Genius. It belonged to a petite, blonde woman who, although with her boyfriend, wanted nothing more than the Wu-Tang rapper, all of six inches away, to touch her. He willingly obliged, with a brief grasp of her hand.
Last night, as part of L Magazine’s Northside Fest (disclosure: I freelance for the Brooklyn-based publication) at Music Hall of Williamsburg, was the first time I had ever seen a member of the Wu-Tang Clan live. I thought I understood the level of devotion fans have for the group – people are still flocking to this GZA/Neil deGrasse Tyson post – but I wasn’t prepared for the show to basically be a religious experience. Eyes were closed, symbols were worn, chants were, well, chanted, and there was the aforementioned girl, who reached out for GZA like a Christian would Jesus. When a bead of sweat dripped off of the rapper and onto my hand, a part of me felt like I should have bottled and sold it on the Internet – “get your Wu-Tang Holy Water, only $70 a vial!”
In short: it was wonderful, as was GZA’s performance. He tore through all of Liquid Swords, backed by Grupo Fantasma, a great Latin funk band from Austin, in a way that only GZA can. You know what I’m talking about, that calmly menacing way he raps, never tripping over his meticulously crafted, tight rhymes, occasionally flashing a devilish grin to the crowd, like he knows something we’re not in on, which is probably true. He’s a pro, knowing exactly when to throw out a well-placed “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nuthing ta f*ck wit’,” without it sounding like he’s pandering to the crowd. (His only guest for our performance was rapper-of-the-moment SpaceGhostPurrp, who more than held his own; I think Ghostface appeared during the late show.) The chemistry between GZA and Fantasma was remarkable, too, considering they’ve only played a few shows together; they kept the no-bullsh*t beat from falling apart and GZA had complete trust in them. They done RZA proud.
For proof that I’m not making this all up, here are some photos from the show, shot by Nadia Chaudhury.