Wu-Tang Clan’s preeminent storyteller, Ghostface Killah, recently released 12 Reasons to Die, arguably one of his strongest efforts, in no small part due to the serious narrative that runs throughout the record. The story is cinematic in scope and is elevated by Adrian Younge’s production, which takes the vague film score aspirations of RZA’s work and follows through on that promise. It’s no wonder there’s a comic book series based on the album coming out soon via Black Mask Studios.
It is with this in mind that my friend and I made our way to Baltimore Soundstage to witness the Iron Man Tony Starks perform live. According to interviews before the tour, Ghostface stated the shows would be very theatrical, which added to the anticipation. The doors were at 7, and show at 8. We showed up near 10 and no one had played yet.
After the MacBook DJ finished his set of largely Wu-Tang and Wu-related material (though he made the questionable choice of stopping Notorious BIG’s “Juicy” for “Hip Hop Hooray”), a rapper called Joie 13 took the stage, and quickly won us over with songs detailing his order at Taco Bell and Star Wars references. He played a short set, only a few songs, before making way for the main act.
Before Ghostface took the stage, Adrian Younge assembled his band Venice Dawn onstage. They performed a solid half-hour of their material, which was a mix of Ennio Morricone-style instrumentals with a bit more squealing guitar work and some ‘70s soul, similar to Younge’s work on the Black Dynamite soundtrack. The crowd was mostly receptive to the band.
After their set, the band briefly retreated from stage, returning wearing masks and performing a reading of the tale of the Ghostface Killah (as detailed on 12 Reasons to Die), before Ghostface Killah (and Killah Priest) took the stage during “Beware the Stare,” the album’s lead track. Ghostface and Priest were energetic throughout, plowing through a number of the new album’s songs, including “I Declare War” and “Enemies All Around Me.” In addition, the pair dropped portions of earlier Ghostface songs-- “Run,” from 2004’s The Pretty Toney Album, was a particular highlight-- as well as GZA’s “4th Chamber” from Liquid Swords and ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”
Mid-set, Younge and Ghostface invited a pair of fans on stage to each rap ODB’s verse from Wu-Tang’s classic single “Protect Ya Neck,” while Ghostface took on Method Man’s verse. The first amateur MC started strong, faltering near the end, while the second failed out of the gate, and attempted to hype the crowd instead before being cut off.
After a brief intermission, where the band played while Ghostface and Priest went backstage, they returned with a group of women in robes, carrying candles, and painted like they were weeping blood. The group later silently moved through the audience during the set’s concluding songs. While it wasn’t the elaborate stage show he may have alluded to, it added a bit of fun to the show having these theatrical elements.
The set felt short, but overflowing with energy and good vibes, leaving the whole audience seemingly more than pleased with what they had just seen. Ghostface delivered his trademark enthusiastic, energetic raps with gusto, and Priest served him well as a hype man for the evening. The addition of two singers—most notably a woman with an almost operatic set of pipes—and a live backing band made for a far more interesting experience than simply playing the album’s beats back over the PA would have. All in all, Ghostface fans should absolutely not miss this tour. And non fans may very well be drawn in by what they’d see here.