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Review: Ghostface Killah, Adrian Younge fuse funk, hip-hop and theatricality at the Orpheum in Tampa

If you’re a rapper, how do you combat the sometimes fair, sometimes not notion that hip-hop shows are just someone on stage rhyming over instrumentals? Well, how about being backed by a live band and theatrics including masked men, oversized storybooks and ghostly women in red robes?

That’s what rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah brought to the Orpheum on Sunday night, on the only Florida stop of his Twelve Reasons to Die tour.

The name comes from his new album, which tells the tale of crime lord Tony Starks being murdered, melted in vinyl and pressed into 12 records before being resurrected as Ghostface Killah to seek revenge. For someone who started off in a hip-hop group steeped in kung-fu lore, the switch to giallo is a smooth one (it even takes place in 1960s Italy.)

The album was produced by Adrian Younge, who should be a familiar face to bay area concertgoers by now after his Antiwarpt and Guavaween sets. And it’s easy to see how Younge and his band Venice Dawn, who composed the soundtrack for Blaxploitation homage Black Dynamite and feature flourishes of spaghetti-western guitar, might’ve appealed to Ghostface Killah for his genre exercise.

Following openers like Infinite Skillz, Prince Golden and FLA ALL DAY (who played a very apologetic set after forgetting their own CD), the stage time was fairly evenly divided between Adrian Younge’s band and Ghostface Killah performing.

A couple of memorable moments came from Venice Dawn’s 40-minute “journey” to Twelve Reasons to Die, including a long lip-lock between the two vocalists and plentiful shredding on both guitar and flute from member Alfredo Fratti. Certainly, this is the most flute-laden rap show you’re likely to attend this year. (At least until that much-heralded Jethro Tull/Wu-Tang Clan collaboration takes off.)

Then Venice Dawn returned to the stage donned in masks and capes, Younge holding a giant storybook, to introduce Ghostface Killah, who would blaze through tracks like I Declare War and Enemies All Around Me. The lurid red and green lights that bathed the stage periodically only added to the cinematic feel.

Eventually the costumes came off, but the theatricality remained. At one point, Ghostface departed from the stage to signify his death at the hands of the DeLuca clan as Younge held up a red-splattered record. “12 records, y’all,” he said. “This is Tony.”

Then Younge asked the crowd to raise their cell phones and lighters in the air and sing the “la-la-lala” intro to Rise of the Ghostface Killah, as Ghostface came back — flanked by five women cloaked and holding candles — to finish the song.

If anything, the set could’ve used more tracks off Twelve Reasons to Die. There were several crowdpleasing Wu-Tang moments, including an appearance by Killah Priest and renditions of C.R.E.A.M., Tearz and Protect Ya Neck. But songs like Blood on the Cobblestones, with its propulsive drums, could’ve really benefited from the live band setting.

Still, the sheer novelty of the show certainly counts for something. When else are you going to see someone play a guitar solo on Ghostface Killah’s back? Or see him surrounded by a posse of gothic girls in rouge robes? And theatrical to the end, the concert closed by introducing each performer onstage, taking a bow and then departing.

-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*

[Last modified: Monday, May 20, 2013 2:41pm]


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