The GZA performs Liquid Swords Palladium Ballroom September 1, 2008
Better Than: Watching some current hitmaker performing a club banger and pretending he's prescient.
"When I was little…my father was famous. He was the greatest samurai in the empire. He was the Shogun’s decapitator. He cut off the heads of a hundred and thirty one lords…Then one night…the Shogun sent his ninja spies to our house…That was the night that everything changed…"
Coming from the voice of a child, this monologue is one of the greatest and most fitting album openings of all time. I’d waited a week to hear these words. Was I disappointed? No. Was I impressed?…We’ll get to that in a minute.
The playlist leading up to the show was primarily of a single place and time: New York 1992-'98. Clearly: "We’re gonna take it back" was the thinking for the night. Fine by me, seeing as that particular time period is what most hip-hop heads consider the second coming. Those simple greats you’d nearly forgotten by the Crooklyn Dodgers and Big L set the mood for nostalgia beautifully. It was also the heyday for the Wu-Tang clan and the extended Wu-Family. A particular member of that family, and an essential character in the Liquid Swords mythology, Killah Priest, opened the show with a couple Sonz of Man tracks as most heads nodded uncertainly.
It was at this point that I allowed myself to wonder: Would GZA really perform the entire album? With a brand new album just released over a week ago, it would seem that he would need to do some promoting. Pro Tools’ squeaky-clean production is in stark contrast to his album 13 years prior. Liquid Swords is more familiar with RZA’s early beats: rough and moody.
Finally, as the Man himself appeared, the crowd rushed from the balcony and into the ballroom with words like: “It’s him!” as the lights dimmed accordingly. GZA himself? Well, the man’s pushing 40...
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Not to fear though, every time he choked on a particular verse, the crowd was there to remember it for him. Killah Priest was there to allow the Genius some free time to stalk back and forth behind the lights with a smirk on his face; exactly where one would picture him, having heard Liquid Swords all the way through. An album more fitting for a night ride across the city than a club.
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But his lyrics exhibit a permanence in shrewdness with a few lines like: "Now come aboard, it's medina bound/Enter the chamber, and it's a whole different sound/It's a wide entrance, small exit like a funnel/So deep it's picked up on radios in tunnels."
I was in that car. So when he told me to: I put my fuckin’ hands up. --Elliot Kaiser
Critic’s Notebook: Random Note: The night’s only reminder of the current day was a brief mention of the upcoming election. It was the prelude to an AIDS themed song created for the iAmerica is Dying Slowly compilation in '96.
By The Way: Killah Priest? On top of his game. The last song of Liquid Swords ends on a spiritually uplifting song performed entirely by Killah Priest--it’s entitled "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth)" and utilizes a sample of, what sounds like, a child laughing.