Muamin Collective & GZA (and many others) at the Grog Shop in Cleveland, OH, 5.29.10

Not only was this my first hip hop show outside of a festival, but it was also my first show at the Grog Shop, so I am unqualified to say how much of the chaos was the norm for either aspect. But GS is notorious for their late start times, and nothing really kicked off Saturday night until after 10:00. Fortunately, up unil then, members of Muamin Collective served as DJs, spinning fine tunes that had the heads of those of us who were there “early” in constant motion. Unfortunately, once the show did start, I kind of wished they’d go back to straight deejaying. For one thing, there were a freaking lot of openers – even more than the four openers slated for the night, as additional acts who were brought on to fill time. All the acts had a lot of heart, but none of them had much game (and even when they had promising beats, the GS sound system rendered them unappetizingly muddy).

That is, until Muamin Collective stepped up. These guys had some of the most amazing energy I’ve ever seen, with great beats and great spirit. They rocked the crowd and, for a while, made us forget how long we were waiting for GZA. I’m looking forward to seeing Muamin Collective again.

Perhaps inevitably, the night hit another lull after Muamin Collective’s set, as 1:00 a.m. was within view but GZA was not. One of the Collective tried to keep the crowd entertained, but there was only one person who could entertain at this point, and chants of “G-Z-A”, “Wu-Tang” and “G-ZA” were going up around the room.

The Grog Shop stage is short. I am also short. So I didn’t see GZA when he hit the stage, but I certainly felt him. While GZA the Genius has always been one of the more understated members of the Wu-Tang Clan, relying more on his skill with words and ideas than theatrics, he still maintains a presence that you can’t ignore (and I spent most of his set standing on the rungs of the stool I had been occupying so I can take that presence in).

GZA is royalty who, along with his cousins RZA and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (who was paid tribute during the show), forms the backbone of the Wu-Tang Clan. As royalty, he can get away with taking it easy, and he let the audience fill in a lot of rhymes throughout a number of songs, but just when you think he’s going to phone the show in (because he could have gotten away with it, and we would all have been happy just to be in a small room with the GZA), he rockets in with a gut-punching rendition of “Crash Your Crew” (after one of two mis-starts, the other caused by a mic that went out in the middle of a song) or pulls out a mellow, lights-down “Animal Planet”.

At one point, GZA broke into an impromptu reading of “B.I.B.L.E.”, which I found hypnotic. But he apparently didn’t think the crowd was feeling it and abandoned the rap halfway through.

Of course, the show was replete with crowd-pleasers like “Cold World”, “I Gotcha Back” and “Breaker Breaker”. And you know you can’t have a GZA show without “Clan in da Front”. He brought the show to a close with a medley of songs from the Wu-Tang Clan’s benchmark debut Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers), including “Shame on a Nigga”, “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Protect Ya Neck”.

There were aspects of the show that could have been better, but seeing GZA in a small club is not an experience many people who were in that room Saturday night are going to forget.

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