Image: Ghostface Killah (credit Micheal Kirkham)
Hip hop in Liverpool is in a buoyant state. The Kazimier has rapidly become the city's go to destination for the ruckus, with Skiddle having witnessed masterclasses from Pharoahe Monch and Peanut Butter Wolf there in recent times, whilst the roof raising show Action Bronson performance is still being talked about over two months after he touched down.
Monday 14th July though Ghostface Killah may have just raised the bar even higher. The Wu Tang Clan emcee had hit the venue previously in 2011, a gig this writer was at, which was good but by no means classic. The rapper, easily Wu's finest, being slightly withdrawn and not quite showcasing his tremendous versatility. This time there wasn't any holding back.
The warm up reverberated to much the same, local starlets Beyond Average setting the tone effortlessly and the reliable selections from No Fakin and DJ 2Kind featuring all the usual staples, Tribe Called Quest's 'Scenario', Biggie's 'Party & Bullshit'and Pete Rock & CL Smooth's 'TROY' (above) among them.
The first indication that this show could be a little different came as that set started to feature the appearance of a grimier New York aesthetic, with 50 Cent's 'Wanksta' among the tracks that leaned away from the golden age hallmarks. Eventually they made way for Ghostface's own DJ The Technician, who after the standard 15 minutes of almost lackadaisical DJing decided to show why he is the man entrusted to hype for Tony Starks.
And hype he did. Thunderous exclaims screaming "do you love hip hop" were accompanied by shattering bass drenched scratches, five minutes of anticipation channeling music which veered relentlessly between snippets of hip hop classics from The Pharcyde, Biz Markie and Mobb Deep, before the familiar fifties soundclips of Tony Starks' travails as Ironman, samples across the rapper's litany of classic LPs, let us know he is about to come on to stage.
And he swaggers on, straight away tearing into the rapping, the first track off 2000's epochal masterpiece Supreme Clientele (stream above on Spotify) 'Nutmeg' his opening cry. It's a song that screams vintage Ghostface, undecipherable slang ranging from the way he "swing the John McEnroe" to his extravagant cocaine laced cigars, announcing a true deity in formidable style.
The roar that greets it from the jam packed throng dripping in sweat is also an early indicator that this will be a humdinger of a show, and from then on in its a multi-tiered assault on the characteristics that make Ghostface such an enduring artist.
It's an argument that is better pursued elsewhere, but this writer would place this particular rapper in the all time top five, and it's simply because of the sheer depth at the heartbeat of him. Whether flipping that distinct vernacular, screeching his soul out to heart aching levels or delivering hip-hop's pummeling polemic of aggression, he's a rapper who does a lot of different things extremely well.
And this showcase manages to distill plenty of them, something that is particularly difficult. His verse on Raekwon's 'Ice Cream' bursts through, his paean to the fairer sex sounding just as good live over arguably RZA's greatest ever beat as it does on record.
Wu's debut Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers) is well represented, allowing for the heartfelt side of his demeanour to shine through on 'Tearz', and then the opine for an overblown crime lifestyle during their youth on 'Can it be all so simple", Ghost rapping both his own and Raekwon's verse.
'One', also off Supreme Clientele, manages to combine his breathtaking storytelling with leftfield metaphors ("rhymes is made of garlic" warding off biters of his style), and its delivered with scintillating panache. Then there's the ridiculousness of hip hop at it's most extravagant, in this case highlighted by a member of the entourage whose purpose seems only to hand out towels.
He's more purposefully accompanied by Wu-Block collaborator Sheek Louch of The Lox. A rapper unfairly tagged as the weak link in his group, here his energy lifts Ghostface to new heights with the duo sharing a chemistry we'd argue only bettered by his work with Cappadonna and Rae, equaling his tag teaming with other Wu Tang brethren.
Here's he's beyond the usual status of hype man, dropping verses off his own career including the brilliant 'Money Power Respect' and a particularly raucous 'Wild Out' (above), Lox's gloriously thuggish Ruff Ryders cut that saw them finally bask in the glory of a career without Puff Daddy.
It's his boundless energy that probably pushes the show into it's stratospheric mid show plateau, particularly with it matched by a crowd both rappers acknowledge as being especially "live". The high point is when they invite two audience members up on stage to recite the verses ODB and Method Man contributed to Wu's debut single and calling card 'Protect Ya Neck'.
As they're carried up on stage, the crowd are told that should the duo deliver, then they deserve a fitting response, but if "they're wack boo the shit out of them". Thankfully it's the former, and the crowd's love is ratcheted to obscene levels, and there's the omnipresent grins that usually adorn the most loved up of raves, pretty special scenes for a Monday night hip hop concert.
It's another crowd participation that sees a shuffle towards another characteristic of the Wu glory, the ramshackle nature of the clan which sometimes causes everything to fall apart at the scenes. That sense of unreliability sits at the very core of the group, from the reams of cancelled shows, the underwhelming music they sometimes deliver, even up to the wonky beats and samples which underpin some of RZA and his litany of disciples best productions.
Ghostface is an emcee who has bucked the trend more than most, the crew's most prolific who differs from his eight fellow emcees in actually doing not only his best work beyond the group's purple patch of 1992-1997, but in 2006's Fishscale somehow making a classic without the involvement of RZA.
He's not immune though to the wobbliness which prevents the Clan from attaining consistency, and when a performance with a harem of women from the crowd carries on a little too long, just about staying on the entertaining as opposed to overly misogynistic side of hip-hop's celebration of ignorance, it teeters on the brink of falling apart at the seams.
Luckily it doesn't, but the ending to a blistering shot of sweat drenched energy does become a little erratic, especially when they head off off rather abruptly. It tempers slightly a fine show, but that's splitting hairs on what was one of the realest and grimy shows Liverpool has seen in a while, a joyous celebration of one of the greatest rappers of all time.
The Kazimier's next installment of hip-hop histrionics sees Dead Prez play on Thursday 23rd October - head here to get tickets for that.
Ghostface Kilah plays The Drum in Aston, Birmingham on Saturday 16th August.