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If I'm being honest, I thought I had this review written before the show had even started. There’d be something aboutDOOM’s notoriously lethargic live performances, then something about Ghostface Killah’s energy levels offering the perfect counter-balance; a familiar story for anyone who’s ever let themselves get excited about a DOOM show. Because for all the critical acclaim and adoration for DOOM, the artist formerly known as MF DOOM, his live performances have at best been described as underwhelming, and at worst, crooked. You’ve probably heard the stories, and a quick search of YouTube will bring up the videos of masked imposters, no-shows and backing track miming. All part of his villainous persona? Perhaps, but there are other ways of adding a sense of theatre to your live show that don’t rip off those that paid to see you.
Imagine my surprise, then, when DOOM not only shows up, but sticks around long enough to play what could basically be described as a greatest hits set. Arriving on stage in his iconic mask and what appears to be a costume made from shrubbery, the pot-bellied supervillain runs through old classics like ‘Beef Rapp’ and ‘Rhymes like Dimes’, as well as choice cuts from his collaborations with Madlib and Danger Mouse. It’s not just DOOM that’s present tonight either, he’s brought King Geedorah with him for a run through of ‘Take Me to Your Leader’. It had been much the same story at ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror event earlier this year, and if DOOM has consciously decided to value his live performances then it’s showing.
Of course, you could hardly describe the show as polished, and there’s something brilliantly ramshackle about the whole thing. For starters, there’s the backdrop image of DOOM’s mask, albeit with the mouse icon still hovering in the background. Before ‘Gazillion Ear’ he runs behind the stage to fiddle with his laptop, minimising the projected image to bring up Itunes and the screen then freezes. For the next three songs, DOOM performs in front of a screen that’s half blacked out and half revealing a desktop adorned with various downloaded movie files. For those interested, DOOM’s film favourites include Clint Eastwood’s 1992 classic The Unforgiven, and Bubba Ho-tep, starring Bruce Campbell. The screen then kicks back in displaying the video to Madvillain’s ‘All Caps’ as he performs a different song altogether. On another night this might have frustrating, but for once DOOM looks like he’s enjoying himself on stage and takes any technical glitches in his stride.
By contrast, the usually reliable Ghostface Killah does not deliver his best performance. This isn’t necessarily his own fault, but despite being full of enthusiasm he is plagued by horrible sound. You’d think after 20 years performing live rap music Wu-Tang would have learnt how to EQ a sound system (or at least pay somebody who can), but once again the high-end is dropped out leaving some of the most distinctive beats of all time nearly unrecognisable. It’s a shame because Ghostface is an incredible performer, owning the stage in a way that can be difficult in a venue like The Roundhouse. There’s even an appearance from Killah Priest, who turns up for his verse on ‘4th Chamber’ and sticks around until the end.
Given the venue’s strict 11pm curfew and the tardiness of both acts, there predictably isn’t enough time for the scheduled joint performance from DOOM and Ghostface. DOOM does re-emerge towards the end of Ghost's set, but amazingly, he’s wearing a backpack as if he couldn’t leave soon enough. At the very least you might expect him to pretend he wants to be on stage, but the masked villain is back to his old tricks. The thing that strikes most me about Ghost’s performance, though, is the untapped potential considering his vast and impressive back catalogue. There's always that nagging sense that he's coasting through the performance on charisma alone, hiding the fact that little work has been put into the preparation. While the now routine Wu-Tang medley is a crowdpleaser and obvious standout, surely given the strength of his solo career it’s time to get the sound right and show a little more imagination.
DOOM photo by Burak Cingi, taken at ATP I'll Be Your Mirror
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