Ghostface Killah / The People North West Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver BC, February 27
Published Feb 28, 2017Putting on a live show is always a crapshoot — there's always a good chance that things won't work out. This was one of those shows.
On paper, this gig should have been a knockout. As a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah is practically hip-hop royalty, and he's been a frequent visitor to Vancouver over the past half-decade, so he has a solid fan base here. Furthermore, the Rickshaw Theatre is the perfect venue for him to play, since the Rickshaw used to be a Shaw Brothers cinema, and Wu-Tang lifted part of the title from their historic debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) from the Shaws' 1978 martial arts classic film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Ghost practically had home court advantage.
Things seemed okay at first. Setting the mood, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin played on the big screens flanking the stage for openers the People North West, a triple-MC attack that got the crowd nodding. Marleau dropped a selection of smooth beats that he also produced, laying the groundwork for Creed Taylor, Tee Krispil and Young Budda to trade West Coast-centric rhymes. Krispil didn't seem to get quite as many verses to shine as the boys did, but an appearance from Jenny Lea of I M U R to belt out a sweet hook helped restore balance.
Unfortunately, that's when the evening took a turn. There was an excruciatingly long break between acts, partially due to car trouble that prevented the headlining crew from reaching the venue in a timely manner, but mostly due to technical problems. Either way, the crowd spent over 40 minutes watching three people trying to troubleshoot two CD turntables and a mixer. Eventually, the film finished playing and the in-house music stopped, so there was nothing left but the incessant plugging, head-scratching and re-plugging of gear.
The dead air didn't linger for too long, though, as Edmonton's Jae Maze came out to pad the time. Copping to the ongoing technical difficulties, Maze dropped a verse from a remix of Method Man's "Straight Gutta" a cappella, freestyled, polled the crowd to see who their favourite Wu-Tang member was, promoted Killah Priest's latest mixtape, crowdsourced a couple of flows from random locals and then fell back on some basic chants with the crowd ("When I say 'hip,' you say 'hop!'"). All of that killed about ten minutes.
When they finally got a beat to drop, and Killah Priest came out to join Maze in hyping Ghostface, they had to acknowledge the fact that shit still wasn't working. The DJ was unable do any cuts, so there would be awkward pauses and transitions between every track.
At one point, Ghostface was gonna jump in on a sick Killah Priest freestyle, but his mic went dead, so Priest had to cover with some talk-back chants and a bar from "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash. After this, Ghost affirmed, "We know this shit is a little fucked up, but we're just trying to get through it, just trying to get through it."
That said, as fucked up as it was, there were positive aspects. Whenever the boys managed to get a beat going, the trio attacked it ferociously. The energy was all there for "We Made It" from Ghost's seminal solo album, 2000's Supreme Clientele, and they nailed their homage to fallen clan-member Ol' Dirty Bastard in their take on "Brooklyn Zoo."
The crowd used the extended break to get thoroughly sauced, so those who stuck it out were super into it. While walking in mid-swagger, Ghostface caught a '90s era Vancouver Canucks jacket that was thrown to him from the crowd, then wore it for the entirety of GZA's Killah Priest-featuring classic "B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)" from 1995's Liquid Swords. If you cut all the highlights together, it probably would have been a solid show, but the stars weren't aligned to make it happen in the moment.