The Daily Californian Online

Live Performance Highlights Album as a Collaborative Effort

By Sean P. Manning
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Music > Concerts

WU-TANG CORP./Courtesy
A WORK OF GENIUS. Wu-Tang Clan's GZA performed his legendary solo album in its entirety for two nights at the Independent earlier this week.

On Monday afternoon I mentioned to a friend that I would be heading to the Independent later that night to see GZA perform the album Liquid Swords-one of the best Wu-Tang Clan albums, group or solo-in its entirety. "Liquid Swords!" I cried. "The best Wu album ever! It's all RZA beats, and the whole Clan is on it." Friend looked at me inquisitively and asked, "So why is it a GZA album and not a Wu-Tang album?"

It seemed like a ridiculous question at first, but the more I thought, the more I wondered. The obvious answer is that every song features GZA. Oh wait, that's not right-Killah Priest is the loner performer on the sublimely awesome closer "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." OK, well GZA is on every other track, but even that is sort of tentative. Take "4th Chamber," which starts out with Ghostface Killah at his most free associative, followed by Killah Priest, then to RZA, who rhymes about ninjas scaling buildings and exploding subatomic particles. By the time the GZA shows up for the fourth verse, the walls are already splattered in blood and guts, and he's just there to tape it off like a forensic scene. Other tracks like "Shadowboxin'" and "Cold World" belong as much to their respective guests Method Man and Inspectah Deck as they do to the Genius.

Which is not to wax revisionist: The album is GZA's showcase for his supreme rhyme skills and it achieves that and more. But as far as solo albums go, it'd be foolish to call Liquid Swords a one-man show, and even more problematic to proclaim that one MC could perform it in its entirety. Yet when the lights dimmed on Monday night and the "Shogun Assassin" monologue which commences the album began, the challenge was on. It started off without a hitch. The opening title track was quintessentially GZA-a pounding two-chord vamp that features the MC dropping lines like "Niggas' styles are old like Mark 5 sneakers / Lyrics are weak like clock radio speakers." The Genius held down the first handful of tracks, often performing short verses on behalf of his absent Clansmen-and going as far as taking care of all of Method Man's lines for "Shadowboxin'."

But whether it was the verbal marathons GZA was running by this point or the fact that he was heading into the heavily guest-laden second half of his album, the energy started to sag. There was palpable anticipation that someone would show up announced-like Method Man, who appeared at the El Rey Theatre in L.A. for GZA's show just a few nights earlier. Sadly, no nuclear family members of the Wu-Tang Clan showed, though Killah Priest was a welcome late addition to the lineup. Yet even the extra gusto couldn't hide the fact that tracks like "Killah Hills 10304" were small potatoes once you cut out the Ghost and Raekwon verses.

The mood of the evening loosened noticeably for the second half of the set, which was a grab bag of GZA's other solo material, as well as tracks from the Wu vault. GZA went into the crowd "Method Man style" for "Crash Your Crew," and even gave an encore performance of "Liquid Swords." Things also got a lot sloppier, with songs being abruptly ended, amusing but seemingly intoxicated rants with the audience, and the MC might have even checked his cell phone once or twice. That this was a sold out Monday night show in a small venue seemed to permit the off-the-cuff vibe, and the show was good natured enough to be recommended-just as long as you're not expecting anything to top-let alone match-the experience of the Liquid Swords album.

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