GZA/Genius - The Arches, Glasgow, Mon 13 Feb
Disappointingly sluggish set from the cerebral Wu Tang Clan member
There’s nothing more frustrating than ritual disappointment from someone you hold in high regard. First up there was GZA’s lazy, bonged-out mumble-athon at the ABC in 2008, then a ghost-like contribution to the Wu Tang Clan’s appearance in the Academy in 2010 and tonight, despite his most active stage antics of recent years – ie, he’s not sitting down tonight – the Clan’s slickest and most cerebral soldier falls flat in an anti-climax of jaw-breaking proportions.
It doesn’t start that way though. After the obligatory 20-minute wait, the crowd erupts as the synth-drenched intro from 80s Japanese martial arts film, Shogun Assassin comes pumping through the speakers. It’s the sample that opens the infamous 'Liquid Swords' (from the 1995 album of the same name) – a song he leaves until later – and the Genius, looking every bit as vibrant as when he first emerged ‘off the set’ back in the 90s, bounds onto the stage.
After a bit of old school b-boy warm-up tactics, it’s ‘Duel of the Iron Mic’, also from Liquid Swords that really gets bodies moving. However, as the track progresses, the sharp-tongued swordsman struggles to stay in time, letting his trademark laidback flow get the better of him and constantly falling short of the beat. You can forgive it once or twice, perhaps even passing for some kind of stylistic convention but it’s a trend that continues throughout, with GZA finishing every quick-witted piece of live, rugged poetry in a slow, sluggish and altogether lacklustre manner.
Anyone who is at all aware of the man’s work will surely testify to his brilliance, which is why it becomes increasingly more painful to watch him be so underwhelming. To be fair, he’s out on his own, packing only a mic and a DJ, and throwing down some of the sharpest tracks to come from an era that he and his clan mates pretty much commanded. Still, as fun as it should be in theory to watch him play the majority of his career-cementing solo album, along with a handful of other strong solo cuts like ‘Animal Planet’ as well as the staple Wu classics, the constant stop-starts combined with his decision to strip most of the songs down to include only the verses leave the set feeling scatty and inconsistent.
It’s difficult not to get caught up in a recorded body of work such as his; one that stands tall above its challengers to this day, but judging by tonight’s performance, GZA’s live prowess continues to fade with age.