So ... where to start on last Wednesday night's GZA show at MTSU? Maybe with a great big "We told you so"? Looks like you need a little more than a Facebook event page if you actually want decent attendance! We understand that, yes, Wu-Tang member GZA is a living legend, and that hypothetically people would find out, and that in theory word of mouth would be strong. Of course, in theory communism works too, but we all know how that shit played out, right? Seriously, how can MTSU claim to be one of the top music industry schools in the country and yet not be able to pack an affordable show with a legendary performer?
But enough about promotion. The lineup as billed was phenomenal: Biscuits and Gravy Band, DJ Kidsmeal and the aforementioned architect of awesomeness, rap legend the GZA. The lineup as actually presented was bullshit — it seems that somewhere between making the Facebook event page and opening the doors (an hour and 15 minutes late, mind you) somebody had tacked on an unannounced local undercard. Worst. Fucking. Decision. Ever. While there were a couple of shining moments, we didn't drive to the hinterlands for amateur night in Dixie, and the half-assed interludes managed to thoroughly destroy any flow that night had accumulated.
First up were Ivory League, who were more bush league than anything else — their slipshod approach to the electro-lifestyle sound might be awesome when you're pulling bong rips in Smith Hall, but it rarely got better than kinda annoying in the J.U.B. The stage was then taken over by Word Up!, the campus "spoken word" organization — you might remember them as the geniuses behind the Lil Jon/Holocaust Remembrance Day mashup earlier this year. We're not against spoken word, but it's not the '90s anymore.
Finally, Biscuits and Gravy took the stage to wash away the mediocrity. It's been a hot minute since we've seen Biscuits and Gravy but — as with the food from which they take their name — we are never disappointed. Their synth-washed jazz fusion sound paired with Future, one of the city's most reliably entertaining MCs, never ceases to make us smile. DJ Kidsmeal's set was ... awkward. While his performance was as tight as we've come to expect from the master turntablist, it seemed like the entire set of classic hands-in-the-air '90s hip-hop was going way, way, way over the audience's collective head.
Then came yet another unwelcome appearance from Word Up!, which basically made the crowd that had assembled during Kidsmeal's set — the largest crowd the night would see — run like hell for the doors. And good for them, because they got to miss Classic, one of the most obnoxiously egotistical rappers we've seen — which is fucking saying something!
Eventually GZA's DJ and two of his boys from Brooklyn took the stage to hype the crowd, but at this point we were so fucking sick of opening acts that we didn't even bother to catch their names. When it finally (FINALLY!) was time for the headliner, when that opening sample from Liquid Swords started — you know, the badass bit about the shogun's decapitator — we decided to buck up and get excited. We'd been waiting this long to see the Genius that we were going enjoy ourselves by hook or by crook.
Well, that was the plan anyway. We lost enthusiasm pretty quick when we realized that GZA would be mailing it in. Granted, the man can coast on his incredible back catalog, but dude wasn't even pretending to be involved in the show. He was like a half-drunk professor lecturing on auto-pilot. He played a bunch of classics from Liquid Swords, Enter the Wu-Tang and all that shit that he ghost-wrote for Ol' Dirty Bastard, even some of the better tracks off 2008's underrated Pro Tools, but it was pretty clear that he did not give a fuck about being there. By that point, though, we didn't either — so we're not going to hold it against him. Maybe next time.
Taking advantage of a lovely spring evening, we decided to take a leisurely stroll with our show-going friend to catch Canadian sister act Tegan and Sara at The Ryman last week. Ah, Lower Broad in the spring — filled with the smells of over-smoked pork and the sounds of beggars calling our companion "girlie" before asking for money. Arriving at 7:30 on the dot, we made it into a half-filled auditorium just as first opener Holly Miranda began.
The sparseness of the room and chatter of the audience made her set feel like it was taking place in an overgrown coffeehouse. She had a pleasant, deep voice that sadly fell into the style of too many female singers nowadays — starting off a line bombastic and strong, and finishing it up in a declarative whisper, as if they haven't the strength to commit to actually singing. Minus the vocals, the music sounded a lot like Radiohead circa '94, except for her Etta James cover, which sounded like a white girl singing Etta James. We did end up with an official Holly Miranda temporary heart tattoo, which, no lie, we love.
The Spin would like to extend our apologies to second band Steel Train. We kind of forgot you were sitting behind us while we were telling our friend post-set that you sounded like "Arcade Fire lite." The Spin doesn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings, but real talk is real talk. We enjoyed your ending percussion-athon, and we always like a great big rock 'n' roll cacophony. Do more of that, change your name, and stop writing songs about anxiety called "Kill the Monster in the Rain," and we think you'll be OK.
As Paramore's Hayley Williams was busy signing autographs in the balcony, we were fluttering back and forth between just which of the main act's songwriters is our favorite: Tegan and Sara tend to write separately, with Tegan going more the straight rock route and Sara open to more modern experimentation. Right on time, the lights went down, the back curtain opened, and the girls started a-screaming. T&S kicked off with "The Ocean," "On Directing," and "The Cure," all songs from their 2009 record Sainthood. The crowd (what we estimated to be a 70/30 split of women/men) went predictably bonkers.
Dear audience, can we settle one a new rule? Stage banter amongst the artists is not an invitation for call-and-response or declarations of love. Tegan (now officially our favorite) even made a point of addressing the worshipful crowd: "It's like we're about to make out and you keep screaming at me." Thanks, Tegan! They rallied and carried on, doing a chunk of our favorite record, So Jealous, including our favorite song, "Walking With a Ghost" (wait, now Sara is our favorite) and closed it out with more from Sainthood. Though sounding much looser than on their records, they still played a fun, professional show with the ease and confidence of, well, two performers who grew up together.
The encore was quieter, with songs from The Con, and they closed out with fan favorite "Living Room." We spilled back out into Lower Broad and made a slow mosey home. The heart tattoo hasn't washed off yet.
See you at Exit/In Tuesday night. Pizza! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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