GZA at MTSU, 3/31/10



See the slideshows for more photos: ; openers.

So ... where to start on Wednesday night's GZA show at MTSU? Maybe with a great big "We told you so"? When we complained a couple weeks ago about the lack of promotion for this show (and just about everything else that goes on there), we weren't doing it for our health. We were complaining because a whole bunch of people wouldn't have heard about it otherwise. And guess what? We were right -- looks like you need a little more than a Facebook event page if you actually want decent attendance. Sur-fucking-prise!

We understand that, yes, Wu-Tang member GZA is a living legend, and that hypothetically people would find out, and that in theory word of mouth would be strong. Of course, in theory communism works too, but we all know how that shit played out, right? When you're promoting a show in a big hall like the Tennnessee Room in the James Union Building, you really do need a big audience or you're just going to end up with a half-enthused echo chamber.

No effort was spared on the production side -- the lighting rig was as impressive as it was blinding, the stage was huge and the sound was great -- so why waste it on a room that was barely a quarter full? Seriously, how can MTSU claim to be one of the top music industry schools in the country and yet not be able to pack an affordable show with a legendary performer?

But enough about promotion. The lineup as billed was phenomenal: Biscuits and Gravy Band, DJ Kidsmeal and the aforementioned architect of awesomeness, rap legend the GZA. The lineup as actually presented was bullshit -- it seems that somewhere between making the Facebook event page and opening the doors (an hour and 15 minutes late, mind you) somebody had tacked on an unannounced local undercard. Worst. Fucking. Decision. Ever. While there were a couple of shining moments, we didn't drive to the hinterlands for amateur night in Dixie, and the half-assed interludes managed to thoroughly destroy any flow that night had accumulated.

First up were Ivory League, who were more bush league than anything else -- their slipshod approach to the electro-lifestyle sound might be awesome when you're pulling bong rips in Smith Hall, but it rarely got better than kinda annoying in the J.U.B. Poorly mastered, poorly constructed and poorly performed, the only exciting thing about Ivory League's sloppy excuse for a set was that the main MC sounded like an asthmatic DJ Kool in his better moments. Sadly, he never lived up to his potential and yelled "Let me clear my throat" -- disappointing to say the least, but certainly less awful than the foppish, mic-less hype-man who was intermittently dry-humping his leg.

The stage was then taken over by Word Up!, the campus "spoken word" organization -- you might remember them as the geniuses behind the Lil Jon/Holocaust Remembrance Day mashup earlier this year. Let's just say that whoever thought that letting the poetry club kick it a capella would be a good idea needs a kick. We're not against spoken word but it's not the '90s anymore. Luckily they let one of our favorite local rappers, Mac the Knife, drop a beat and actually throw down some nice rhymes. Remember those shining moments we talked about? Those all belonged to Mac, and when he masters breath control he will be a force to be reckoned with, mark our words.

Finally, Biscuits and Gravy took the stage to wash away the mediocrity. It's been a hot minute since we've seen Biscuits and Gravy but -- as with the food from which they take their name -- we are never disappointed. Their synth-washed jazz fusion sound paired with Future, one of the city's most reliably entertaining MCs, never ceases to make us smile. Seriously, if you built a fortress out of late-'70s Stanley Clarke records and then gave that fortress the ability to rap, it would sound just like Biscuits and Gravy.

There was another intermission with the poetry club and some dude named Special K rapping about women only sleeping with him for the "flex bucks" on his meal plan, which really is kinda sad when you think about it. And there was also guy that kept screaming "Cee Zee Bitch" so we're gonna assume that's his name and just leave it at that -- he sure did scream "Cee Zee Bitch" over and over again. It was at this point that we were starting to think that Word Up should maybe change their name to "Please, Please, Please Shut the Hell Up." All of the good will that B-and-G had accumulated was gone by the time C.Z. finished screaming his name.

DJ Kidsmeal's set was ... awkward. While his performance was as tight as we've come to expect from the master turntablist, it seemed like the entire set of classic hands-in-the-air '90s hip-hop was going way, way, way over the audience's collective head. Never in our long and storied career have we been at rap show where "The Ten Crack Commandments" was met with such a resounding thud -- it's one of Biggie's best tracks! Act like ya know, fools! Or at least act like you know that you're supposed to know! Damn kids these days!

Kidsmeal's set was followed by yet another unwelcome appearance from Word Up!, which basically made the crowd that had assembled during Kidsmeal's set -- the largest crowd the night would see -- run like hell for the doors. And, y'know, good for them, because they got to miss Classic, one of the most obnoxiously egotistical rappers we've seen -- which is fucking saying something! It'd be one thing if he had more than middling talent, but he doesn't, and all the self-congratulation in the world isn't going to change that.


Eventually GZA's DJ and two of his boys from Brooklyn took the stage to hype the crowd, but at this point we were so fucking sick of opening acts that we didn't even bother to catch their names. When it finally (FINALLY!) was time for the headliner, when that opening sample from Liquid Swords started -- you know, the badass bit about the shogun's decapitator -- we decided to buck up and get excited. We'd been waiting this long to see the Genius that we were going enjoy ourselves by hook or by crook.

Well, that was the plan anyway. We lost enthusiasm pretty quick when we realized that GZA would be mailing it in. Granted, the man can coast on his incredible back catalog, but dude wasn't even pretending to be involved in the show. He was like a half-drunk professor lecturing on auto-pilot. He played a bunch of classics from Liquid Swords, Enter the Wu-Tang and all that shit that he ghost-wrote for Ol' Dirty Bastard, even some of the better tracks off 2008's underrated Pro Tools, but it was pretty clear that he did not give a fuck about being there. By that point, though, we didn't either -- so we're not going to hold it against him. Maybe next time.

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