[While the rest of the staff is busy duncecapping-and-kazooing its way through the usual July 4 activities, Phoenix rap critic Chris Faraone has left the country and is doing lots of drugs. We rejoin him at Montreal's Jazz Fest, already in progress.]
GZA's Liquid Swords: drunk, or just human?
MONTREAL -- I must have sniffed a kilometer of blow last night. Not really, but isn’t that funny? Get it – they have the metric system up here, which, from what I can tell, is the only disadvantage about Canada. Everything else is better in Montreal; you can smoke weed and drink in public, the women are way hotter, people are hella nicer, and the cops are so cool that Canadian rappers don’t even rhyme about killing them. Since I’m not sure where to begin, I’ll move chronologically. Right after filing my dispatch yesterday I had a drink with Mitch Myers, the acclaimed author of The Boy Who Cried Freebird, a National Public Radio correspondent, and, most importantly, a part-time columnist for High Times. Meeting Mitch was not just an honor, but also a reminder as to how little I know; I understand French better than I understood his jazz talk. If I’m ever going to start actually writing about music instead of just commenting on how wasted I get all day, I’ll have to keep hanging out with guys like him.
They have a term around here for people who wear credential leashes when they’re outside of Jazz Fest: “assholes.” I don’t care though; I like rocking things around my neck, and since I can’t afford an icy rope chain, festival passes work fine. Yesterday, however, I removed it at my friend Adam’s request when we went for smoked brisket at the world famous Schwartz’s Deli. While at first I wasn’t excited about sitting Benihana-style at Schwartz’s, we turned out to have a good crew. To my left was an old-school black gentleman who was visiting his friend and hitting all the outdoor shows; like most jazz heads I’ve met up here, he was simply elated to be around so much soul. To my right there was a cool ass DJ duo from Toronto called the Ill Kidz who I’m going to watch spin at some uber-bourgeois club tonight. Montreal is the most authentically hip-hop city that I’ve ever been to. Walls everywhere are decked with serious graf murals; there are record stores on every other block (corporate and non-corporate); and – get this – yesterday I saw a group of twenty kids breaking on the sidewalk. Let’s face it: New York belongs to racist wealthy yuppie scumbags and tasteless hipster phonies. Boom-bap might have started there, but it’s hard to call Gotham hip-hop’s home when twits like JR Writer claim Harlem and the NYPD has a task force specifically charged with exterminating rap culture. Hip-hop can’t breathe in a lot of U.S. cities, which is why it’s only natural that it flourishes in places where people are less ignorant, more open-minded, and, to put it bluntly, less bigoted.
Nowhere was Montreal’s passion for hip-hop more evident than at last night’s RZA and GZA show at Metropolis. The spirit went way beyond the hundreds of Wu-Tang t-shirts, many of which, I should note, looked new, unlike the ratty ones from the Wu-Wear days that all my fellow lowlife Massholes break out at the annual Clan show in Worcester. People are still extremely into Wu-Tang here; most were familiar with tracks from the RZA album that dropped last week. Not all was peachy though. Before RZA took the stage, and before GZA performed “Liquid Swords” from front to back, we had to sit through one of the most excruciating sets in the history of live music. The group, Stone Mecca, which later backed RZA more than competently, straight up sucked on its own. They call it neo-soul; I call it junk-ola. Canadians are truly sweet people; had they tried this shit at a Wu-Tang show below the border, they’d have been booed back to Los Angeles.I wasn’t the only one disgusted; one of the soundmen told me that GZA refused to come out before the DJ re-warmed the crowd. Actually I’m lying; the soundman told the Narcysist, the MC from the legendary Montreal rap group Euphrates, and the Narcysist told me. I have to plug my boy here; watching Narcy in the club was like watching that scene in Coming To America where they’re at the St. John’s game and the two janitors recognize that Eddie Murphy is royalty: “Just some people who I met in the bathroom.” Narcy has that effect on people. And while I’m slinging Eddie references, the band I would most compare Stone Mecca to is Sexual Chocolate.
I’m not certain what the announcer said since it was in French, but all I heard was “Liquid Swords,” which, coincidentally, were the only two words that I needed to hear. After DJ Mathematics lit the flame with some Mobb Deep cuts and Big Pun and Fat Joe’s “Twinz” (you know – over Dre’s “Deep Cover” beat – the song that proves East Coast hip-hop’s superiority over West Coast flavor), GZA strolled out wearing one of his trademark neon polos. The rest of this dispatch is dedicated to my Wu-Tang Wednesday people at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square. I see you. Although everyone knew that GZA was going to kick Liquid Swords in its entirety, it was still infinitely exciting when that scary little girl’s voice from the intro came on. If you had two hands, they were high up in the air forming an almighty “W.”
GZA: Liquid Swords live at Montreal Jazz Fest
Around track three GZA began forgetting some lyrics; but while word around the venue was that he was drunk, I think he was just human. This didn’t bother me at all; for one, as he told the crowd: “That’s what y’all are here for;” and for two, it made me feel less guilty about not remembering every intro, rhyme and hook. Nobody in the crowd seemed to give a shit either; instead we formed like Voltron to help our boy get through.The only disappointment in GZA’s set was that RZA, who was presumably backstage, didn’t come out for his verse on “4th Chamber.” They ended up dropping it together two hours later at the end of RZA’s set, but I kind of wanted it in the moment. Other than that, shit was hectic; in a few weeks I get to see GZA do Liquid Swords at the much more intimate Harpers Ferry in Boston, and if Montreal was any indication …you didn’t really think I was going to set up a sentence with that cheap tabloid cliché – did you?When you have plans to hit a Wu-Tang show, you should never have afterparty plans. They’re always going to be late, and they’re always going to dig deep into their catalogues and spit until the roof rots. For the start of his hour-and-a-half long set, RZA opened with “Long Time Coming” off his new Digi Snacks, which I recommend to anyone who’s ever dug a Wu-Tang album, which I’m imagining is you if you’re still reading this. Marching through his new disc, RZA, with the help from a semi-redeemed Stone Mecca, crushed “Don’t Be Afraid To Call My Name.” The band’s translation of the title track, Digi Snacks, was also raw; of the new joints, the only one that blew was “Straight Off The Block,” a horrendous David Banner-produced creative fart that should be axed for the second Digi Snacks pressing.
RZA: "Don't Be Afraid To Call My Nam" live at Montreal Jazz Fest
And then RZA dipped into all the dope songs off his solo albums that American fans for the most part wouldn’t know, but that heads up here screamed along to. From “It Must Be Bobby” to “We Roll” to the heartwarming “Grits,” the bullets just came tearing through the barrel. I tried imagining the perfect way to illustrate the collective emotion that ensued when he segued into “1-800 Suicide,” “Tearz” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta Fuck Wit,” but instead I think I’ll just jizz on my keyboard. This show alone was worth the trip up here; I don’t have to be nostalgic about hip-hop’s heyday in Montreal – I’m walking around in it right now. Just one thing – and this goes not just for Wu-Tang, but to all black rappers with predominately white fan bases: Please don’t do call-and-response numbers that require the crowd to say “nigga.” We’re not allowed to say it in the company of black people, so it makes things extremely uncomfortable. Being a music critic is ironic; you’re the only one who doesn’t have to pay for tickets, but you’re also the only one who gets to print your complaints. For some reason, that dynamic often makes me feel guilty about enjoying myself at work. But from now on – or at least this weekend – I’ll be living out the mantra that RZA left the crowd with to commemorate the Ol’ Dirty Bastard: “If you are not having a good time, then you are wasting your time.” Word to all of that.