Review: GZA revives 'Liquid Swords,' Killer Mike kills it with 'R.A.P. Music' at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
When a stop in Tampa during GZA’s Liquid Swords tour was announced, it seemed like a can’t-miss concert for the area’s hip-hop heads and hipsters alike.
Yet there were some bumps along the way to the show’s eventual end Wednesday night. It was moved from the Ritz Ybor to the smaller State Theatre, and Williams was nowhere to be found. Despite the changes, the show was ultimately an enjoyable throwback to ’90s rap — with a revelatory, standout set from one performer.
After some warm-up from DJ Sandman and local rapper Infinite Skillz, Brooklyn’s Bear Hands had the unenviable task of playing as the only traditional band on a hip-hop bill. They put in a game effort that was met with appreciation by some and derisive confusion by others.
Even with the legendary GZA as the headliner, the best set of the night belonged to Atlanta’s Killer Mike. Much of his set came from his new album R.A.P. Music, and tracks like Untitled and Go! whipped the crowd into an unusually raucous, moshing frenzy for a hip-hop show.
The futuristic, banging beats of producer El-P — who sounds like Philip K. Dick if he was in the rap game — sounded even stronger booming from the State Theatre’s amplifiers. Yet for the breakthrough hit Reagan (for pundits on MSNBC and Fox News at least), he went acapella to emphasize each stinging political point.
Between all this, Killer Mike cut a charming personality onstage, discussing his history with St. Petersburg. He said he used to vacation and fish there with his grandparents, and brought up a local friend who had passed the bar.
The set even got surprisingly emotional as he got choked up and seemed to hold back tears talking about his grandparents, seguing into Willie Burke Sherwood, a song about his grandfather.
Finally came GZA, the Genius himself. Without the presence of a backing band or his new material (which apparently involves science and the universe), he offered more of a comforting run-through of ’90s hip-hop history — like the audience sing-along to Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy in between sets.
Although he played plenty of tracks from his classic 1995 album Liquid Swords, including the title track and Cold World, his set took freely from the Wu-Tang catalog. He also sang verses of Clan in Da Front and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F--- Wit, as well as Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya.
GZA concluded the show by noting that next year marks the 20-year anniversary of Wu-Tang Clan, and that he’d be back soon. Judging from the crowd reaction and the concert in general, plenty seem willing to revisit the days of ’90s hip-hop — when Wu-Tang were kings.
— Jimmy Geurts, tbt*. Photo: Brian Mahar, tbt*