With Carnage and The Level Heads
Fresh off a plane on six hours of sleep, but energized from his fight training earlier with Tony Jaa and the hefty amount of Belvedere onstage, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan rolled through the Cabooze Friday with a powerful presence that got steadily amplified as the crowd reacted and the drinks continued to flow. This was not a Bobby Digital set, where he has been known to play with a live band, but instead a straight-forward rapper plus DJ affair that stripped the Abbott back to his rawest form.
Known as much for his beatboxing skills as his intense rap vocals, opener Carnage builds his beats live with the use of effects and a loop pedal which transforms his voice into individual elements of his backing track. Every track had an instrumental crescendo that layered mimicked instruments until deemed complete, followed by Carnage tearing into the track with lightning-fast verses that rarely let up in intensity. In between verses, he'd stop the beat as though he were finished, soak up applause for the audience, then explode into the second verse, almost to prove he could do this forever. Paying no attention to his setlist, Carnage had some great chaotic moments, including building his version of the "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing To Fuck Wit" beat and starting in on a cover before scrapping it. An acapella tribute to Eyedea was touching, more so after he launched into "Star Destroyer," covering Eyedea's verse before launching into his own. By the end of his set, he had won the whole crowd over.
After a DJ set from DJ AppleJews, RZA hit the stage ready, mic in one hand and vodka in the other. The first portion of his set was all Gravediggaz material, setting a raw tone for the night as he ripped through the gritty tracks one after the next. He only did one verse from many of his songs, which allowed him to do more tracks and cover more ground, which was nice in that it felt like a full career retrospective. From classic Wu-Tang verses to album cuts from his Bobby Digital material to guest verses from other people's songs, RZA established himself as a strong rapper apart from his crew, band or any hype men.
He was a enigmatic and manic figure onstage. Downing booze consistently while sharing it with the audience -- which served the dual purpose of bring people closer to the stage as well as getting everyone very sauced -- amped his energy to an oddly controlled state of inebriation, which added to his performance level but somehow didn't take away from his consistency with songs. At points it seemed like he was freestyling parts, but it never felt like he was doing unprepared ad-libbing. During a song entirely about drinking, smoking, and fucking, he began riffing on people's drinks, seemingly just because he felt like it, all with the precision of a cipher-trained freestyle lyricist. There was a frenetic looseness to the set that was refreshing and impressive.
RZA said he hasn't been doing as much hip-hop shows lately, as he's been focusing on his movie
, The Man with the Iron Fists
, set for release later this year. His hope with the film is to bring hip-hop to the theatre for those who can't get to the club as much anymore. The way RZA builds his beats has always been inspired by kung-fu flicks, and working on a movie seems like a natural fit, but it was nice to see the time spent in another realm of art didn't take away from the rap side. In fact, he seemed invigorated by the busy scheduling, the new sorts of stressors, and the fact that a rap show is the perfect release. "If you're not having a good time, you're wasting your time," he shouted aloud as he passed around a third Patron bottle. This was drunken revelry at it's finest, and some of it's most polished; despite a swagger that staggered with each new pull, the songs never missed a beat and there was hardly a lull.
Rather than an encore, RZA did a final Wu-Tang medley, the third of the night, which started off with Inspectah Deck's famous verse from "Triumph." Since everyone seemed to know the words to every track, RZA turned the mic to the audience and mouthed along with them, almost like a full bar karaoke. It was an amazingly big moment for what was basically RZA just listening and vibing. Afterwards, he signed a bunch of stuff from the crowd and gave hugs to two dudes who approached the stage with an awe surrounding them.
Personal Bias: I consider RZA to be one of the most important and influential figures in rap music.
Random Detail: The final bottle of alcohol (of a total of four) RZA passed around to the audience was red wine, an apparent last minute grab from someone's personal stash.
The Crowd: Another instance of a line in the men's room.
Overheard in the Crowd: During Carnage's set: "It makes me wish the guy from Police Acadamy rapped."
Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide
Here Comes The Gravediggaz
Wu-Tang Medley: C.R.E.A.M./Shame On A Nigga/M.E.T.H.O.D. Man
Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing To Fuck Wit
Drink, Smoke + Fuck
Kiss Of A Black Widow
You Can't Stop Me Now
Wu-Tang Medley: M.E.T.H.O.D. Man/Da Mystery of Chessboxin/Clan In Da Front
Don't Be Afraid
Wu-Tang Medley: Triumph/Protect Ya Neck/Shimmy Shimmy Ya
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