GZA (Wu-Tang Clan) live at the Hollywood Theatre, Vancouver, BC – 01/27/23
Presented by Timbre Concerts
Words: John Zee – @johnzee23
Photos: Ronan Considine – @soundflashphotography
“Energy is felt once the cards are dealt,
With the impact of roundhouse kicks from black belts,
That attack the mic-phones like cyclones or typhoons,
I represent from midnight to high noon…” GZA – “Liquid Swords”
GZA aka The Genius, cousin to Wu-Tang founder RZA and the only member of the Clan to have a solo album out prior to the release of Wu-Tang’s ‘Enter The 36 Chambers’. However it was his second album, Liquid Swords, that received the highest fan praise and was quickly garnered as a classic, cementing GZA’s reputation as a top level wordsmith and furthering RZA’s reputation as an acclaimed producer.
It’s this same album that had the Hollywood Theatre in Vancouver sold out on Jan. 27, 2023, exactly 27 years after it was released on Nov. 7, 1995. This was my first time getting the chance to see GZA perform solo as the other three times I’ve seen him have always been with his group, Wu-Tang. Imo, GZA has often come across as the more introverted, reserved member of the group and would get overshadowed by the bigger, more extroverted personalities in the Clan (i.e, Mef, GFK, Rae, ODB etc.) So I was excited to see how GZA would rock the house on his own merits without the additional members of his group present.
To no surprise, the crowd itself was mostly filled with 35+ year old Hip Hop fans that donned their favourite and most nostalgic Wu-Tang shirts and hats. However as I made my way to the bar, I was happy to see more younger men and women in attendance as well. As we waited for drinks, one woman overheard a conversation I was having with a friend about our love for the Liquid Swords album and turned to us and said.. “honestly, it’s a really great album to drive to. It helps me focus and be present in the moment. It’s a very consistent record”. If I were to guess, this lady was probably 27 herself. That made me smile (Wu-Tang is for the children!)
Not long after we got our drinks sorted, GZA’s tour DJ (apologies, I didn’t catch his name) stood behind the turntables and started the chant of “Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang” and immediately the crowd joined in and eagerly chanted along. Shortly after, GZA popped out stage left and humbly walked up to the DJ stand, grabbed his mic and without any major delay or introduction, launched into “Dual of the Iron Mic”. While that’s a favourite cut from the album for myself personally (and clearly many others in attendance), it was here that I quickly realized that he wouldn’t be performing the tracklist from the album in order from song 1 to 13 as we’re used to hearing it.
To no real surprise GZA’s cool, calm demeanor was on full display while he casually ripped through classic joints such as “Shadowboxing”, “Labels”, “Investigative Reports”, “Hell’s Wind Staff”, “I Gotcha Back”, “Living in the World Today”, “4th Chamber” and my most beloved song from that album, “Cold World” (where he spit both his own verse as well as Inspektah Deck’s classic verse also). GZA was entirely in the pocket the whole time, literally.. as he sauntered around the stage with one hand in his pants pocket while flawlessly breezing through every verse with ease. Now if this were a rapper that was brand new, I may be reporting back that the performance lacked energy and interest, but when it comes to GZA, this was reflective of a man who’s a consummate professional that has been rapping and performing around the world for 30+ years.
In addition to delivering the fan favourite records from Liquid Swords, GZA made sure to also satisfy the crowd’s thirst for Wu-Tang joints as well. Performing his verses from popular Wu darts as “Triumph”, “Reunited”, “Protect Your Neck”, and “Clan in da Front”, while also paying homage to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard with “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”.
Before ending the show, GZA stopped the music to mention how he still tours not out of necessity, but simply out of pure love. He touched on how he’s humbled that Liquid Swords, which came out nearly 30 years ago, is still an album that is desired by people. He thanked the Vancouver crowd for supporting him all these years and before leaving, he appeased the masses by performing the single/title track from the album, Liquid Swords. Then before you knew it, the show was done and just like clockwork, right at 11pm, the music stopped and the lights came on.. which I found fitting because as you may remember from the original Liquid Swords video, GZA and RZA were in fact rapping on top a clock.. go figure.