Ghostface Killah with Adrian Younge
Somewhere between a classic film score and an adventurous concept album is where Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge meet on their upcoming album Twelve Reasons to Die. Inspired by Tarantino and the RZA, the album is heavy in genre specific homages. Mixing Ghostface's lyrics and Younge's instrumentals is an exciting alchemy, and last night the Mayan hosted the first show of the supporting tour.
Promoters Art Dont Sleep had openers including Blu & Exile, Dag Savage, Roc Marciano, The Gaslamp Killer, House Shoes, and Mark Luv. All told, the show was nearly six hours. It went something like this:
6:55pm: The sun sets in my rear view as my car dives into the belly of downtown. Felli Fel is interviewing Lil' Wayne on Power 106 while I've been stuck in traffic. Lil' Wayne doesn't like his new album, he says. He thinks MTV doesn't like him. He also lives in the top of the Hollywood hills where there are “mountain lions.” But enough of all that.
8:15pm: Inside the Mayan now. Blu comes out, smooth as the tide, and after a couple of songs he's joined by rapper MED of Stones Throw. The two quickly give a lesson on west coast flow.
8:32pm: People are still settling in, and from the main floor I can see The Gaslamp Killer checking out Blu's set.
8:35pm: Blu comes equipped with guest rappers galore, first Dag Savage grabs the mic, and then before long Aloe Blacc joins the party onstage.
8:47pm: As Blu and his guest crew end their set, Mark Luv reminds us that it's House Shoes' birthday, and we can see him cueing up on the side of the stage. He begins his set and plays a dirty beat that samples “Money” from Pink Floyd.
8:55pm: I find myself in the balcony as Aloe Blacc walks past, looking for his people. He gives hugs to well-wishers, fans, and colleagues.
9:05pm: House Shoes drops a Dilla beat.
9:25pm: The crowd is beginning to thicken. House Shoes plays MF Doom's “Accordion.” The energy is building. Mark Luv appears onstage — “We got Roc Marciano!” Roc enters to the classic soul of Willie Hutch's “I Choose You.” He takes the mic, a cup of brown liquor in one hand, the mic in the other.
9:55pm: Roc Marciano ends his set. We can see The Gaslamp Killer behind his fortress of electronics onstage, wagging his hair back and forth, loosening his neck like a boxer before a fight. A couple of girls introduce me to Dag Savage, who's now by the bar watching the show. I tell him that he definitely brought the energy up as soon as he grabbed the mic. Gaslamp's beats start to throb in slowly… space sounds… a slow, dirty grime beat grinds in.
10:30pm: The Gaslamp Killer's energy is infectious. His huge hair bouncing everywhere as he moves back and forth, cutting this, cueing that. It's like he's playing his anger out through his music. Like when you're parents would yell at you, but then tell you it's because they love you. Almost as if he's waiting for you to hate what he does, but he knows full well you'll obey his every beat. He's the strange kid in class, playing acid rock to a head-nod hip-hop crowd and completely selling it.
11:00pm: The second host for the evening is Trek Life, who reminds us that “It's a real good time to be from Los Angeles right now.”
11:10pm: Anticipation is thick. Up in the balcony, people are squeezing in where they can, drinks in hand. Adrian Younge takes the stage, two guitarists, a drummer, and keys in tow. Venice Dawn shifts into a jam-band fire of instrumentals. With the beats blazing, Younge switches from the bass to the sax. Soon vocals jump in. Like James Brown's footwork, the mood shifts entirely. What was just minutes ago head nods and grimy faces is now soul-funk fusion, beats per minute shifting multiple times.
11:20pm: As the well-dressed instrumentalists continue their journey, Younge drops to his knees at the front of the stage, playing the bass like he's burying his child. The music is unceasing, and amidst the constant rhythm, five women in red-hooded cloaks walk in a line through the stage, circle around, and walk back offstage.
11:40pm: The house lights come on slightly and the people onstage have slowly disappeared. Scratching sounds… a dim voice gives a cinematic and enigmatic intro.. all the crowd can hear is the final words “Ghostface Killah.” This starts the crowd chanting “WU-TANG! WU-TANG!” The band now re-enters the stage in black cloaks and black and white masks, four vocalists now at the side of the stage. Adrian Younge is behind the keyboard, full costume and mask, playing like a hip-hop phantom of the opera.
11:48pm: The musical intro has started to boil, and Ghostface erupts onto the stage. A baseball cap atop his black and white mask, he's rapping with the speed of a seasoned veteran. He takes his mask off and we can see his huge smile. He's joined onstage by his hype man Killah Priest, a mass of a man with a strong voice, sparring and supporting Ghostface for a couple of quick tracks.
11:53pm: Suddenly the crowd erupts in surprise as The RZA jumps out onstage for a quick verse. After all, he's the executive producer of Twelve Reasons to Die.
11:56pm: Ghostface stops for a moment in between songs to talk to the crowd and explain why it was always in his vision to kick off this tour in Los Angeles. “Y'all have always supported us!”
12:02am: Younge leads the crowd in the first official chant of “WU-TANG! WU-TANG!” Now they stop momentarily to ask the crowd if anyone knows Ol' Dirty Bastard. They bring up two brave souls, a bigger guy in a black shirt, and a smaller guy in a white Kangol. Ghostface himself gives the intro to the ODB verse. Black shirt guy starts on point “First things first…” and the crowd goes crazy as he hits the verse perfectly. It's now the turn of the smaller guy in the white Kangol. Ghostface gives him the intro, and white Kangol guy does an admirable job, but a little rougher. This gets a huge hug and smile from Ghostface.
12:21am: They continue through more of Ghostface Killah's catalogue, as well as tracks from the new record. Adrian Younge helps out in a beautiful homage to James Brown. Venice Dawn continues into a slow funk-soul piece, and this leads into the live instrumental version of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Now the five women in red cloaks reappear, surrounding a huge red velvet chair in the center of the stage. Younge marches Ghost out to it and sits him down. A huge red storybook is placed on Ghostface Killah's lap. It is now story time, children. He raps from the chair, putting the show itself to bed.
12:30am: After introducing the band, Younge gives a final thank you to Los Angeles, and a final round of applause for Ghostface Killah is echoed through the ruins of The Mayan. Someone from the crowd holds up a sealed copy of one of his older records, and Ghostface signs it, holds it up for us to see, and hands it back.
12:45am: Ghostface comes back to the stage for a final encore. He blesses us, and we love him for it. The crowd of performers onstage gently disperses, and so do we. Now the crowd is exhaled by The Mayan back out into the streets of downtown.