“Austin, Texas ain’t nothin’ to f**k with,” legendary rapper GZA yelled, during his performance at the Mohawk on Friday, Oct. 5. Known as the Wu-Tang Clan’s “spiritual head,” GZA proudly proclaimed the gospel of the Staten Island hip-hop collective. And with our Wu-Tang Ws held high in the night sky, we listened attentively.
If Angels and Airwaves had a hipster cousin, Bear Hands would be it. Frontman Dylan Rau’s vocal delivery is reminiscent of Angels and Airwaves’ Matt DeLonge—playful and queer. The Brooklyn-based quartet took the stage with an assortment of new wave-y rock tracks. Although different from the acts that followed, Bear Hands put on an enjoyable set.
2012 has proved to be a successful year for Killer Mike, and I think he realizes that. Walking onstage with a smile on his face, Mike was immediately greeted with applause, and people shouting his name. “I feel like I’m performing for friends and family,” Mike said, before going into “Go!”
The crowd was “turnt up,” as Mike put it: People jumped, recited lyrics and went absolutely insane, as Mike bombarded the crowd with his lyrical prowess. Halfway through the set Mike preached about ex-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, which segued into a discussion about inequality and unfairness in America. It could have been boring, but there’s so much fervor and frustration behind Mike’s voice, that you can’t help but listen. And just when it seemed his set may become a hip-hop lecture, he went into “Burn.”
What’s great about Mike is he can shift from agitated political head to party-boy, effortlessly. After “Burn,” the rapper went into a handful of classics: Outkast’s “The Whole World,” Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” and Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ “Kryptonite (I’m On It).” Ending his set with “Kryptonite” Mike jumped into the crowd, resulting in a legion of fans surrounding him. The rapper jumped with the crowd, passing the microphone around, before heading to his merchandise table.
The lights dimmed to a bright blue, as Grupo Fantasma took the stage. Serving as GZA’s backup band the ensemble filled the stage, with each member proudly wearing identical black-and-white t-shirts.
Shortly after, dialogue from classic Japanese action movie Shogun Assassin began to play through the speakers. We cheered, whistled and applauded—GZA would be onstage any moment. As the dialogue ended GZA ran onstage, going right into “Liquid Swords.” At the moment, we all realized history was being made. GZA was performing Liquid Swords in its entirety, with Austin’s very own Grupo Fantasma.
GZA’s entire set was a celebration. A celebration of Liquid Swords‘ 17 year-old anniversary, and Wu-Tang Clan’s ever-growing importance and influence on hip-hop music. After so many years the songs still come natural to GZA. He splices up words like a samurai, cutting and dissecting his flow with incredible precision.
And Fantasma breathed new life into GZA’s classic repertoire. From the soulful horns of “Gold,” to the gut-punching drums of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” the band’s contributions did not go unnoticed.
Once GZA’s set was complete, the rapper remained onstage for over 15 minutes, signing caps, albums and an MPC (yes, a Music Production Center), for fans close to the stage.
“We haven’t rehearsed or sound-checked, but hopefully we’ll be all right,” GZA said, prior to his performance. None of us would have ever known; after performing for so many years, live shows probably come natural to the rapper. He led Grupo Fantasma with complete confidence, manipulating their dynamics to emphasize a point, or manipulate a song’s structure.
“Wu-Tang is here for forever,” deceased Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard, once said. GZA’s performance was a testament to that—those of us at the Mohawk on Friday night, witnessed history. Wu-Tang Clan is truly nothing to f**k with.