The thumping bass swelled as I swaggered up the flight of stairs at Canyon Lodge for Mammoth Mountain’s opening weekend concert with RZA from the Wu Tang Clan.
The forum was lit like a disco, just dark enough to make everyone look sexy but with bright flashes keeping up with every quick beat. The crowd looked mostly young from where I stood at the bar, checking out the night’s vibe.
I grabbed an overpriced pint and ponied myself up to front and center stage to investigate the room further. It was over 30 minutes after RZA was supposed to begin playing, and a DJ was still kicking off the night with drum and bass tempos that the audience was heating up to.
The weather outside was below freezing but the intense grind of the dance floor at the lodge sent the temperatures past comfortable—and most of the people dancing were dressed for a summer musical festival.
In fact a resemblance to Burning Man casually reflected the audience. I was able to pick out a man in a parrot costume, a life-sized teddy bear, and a girl wearing nothing other than flashing glow sticks.
It seemed I was at a rave. This was unexpected.
And all these bright-eyed spectators were being built up into a frenzy by the DJ’s dub step beats as they awaited RZA in enthralling waves of Gangnam Style remixes.
At this early moment in the evening, one thing was quite evident; the energy in the building was fast approaching some immediate pinnacle. This climax was fueled by an audience already high from the excitement of Mammoth’s opening weekend and the anticipation generated by this frenzy of partying locals and newcomers was sending waves of eager readiness across the room.
A dance party consumed the entirety of the crowd in this way and was only eventually stopped so the band could set up and the audience could get what they had originally come for. They could not have been higher at this point.
At a moment when either a fire or fight was about to break out, the band made its entrance. The ensemble came out dressed super-fab and went toward designated instruments, looking like they could fit into a band in any era between 1970 and now.
The music started onstage and an immediate soul beat spilt onto the hungry listeners. RZA’s accompaniment included two singers, a bassist, a guitarist, a bongo player, a drummer, and a DJ. In a moment they had us all swooning and bouncing around awaiting the main acts.
The name of the game at these hip-hop shows is in the buildup and we were built up into near eruption. When RZA came out of the back and onto that stage, it was as if a god had arrived to save us all from our own debilitating anticipation. Take note that RZA and the Wu Tang Clan are masters of this practice and we immediately were eating out of his hand, chanting in command and following his every step.
RZA accompanied this holy entrance with a bottle of vodka which he took a massive sip from and told the crowd he wanted to share, passing it down into the first row and making its way from lip to lip, and finally to me as an empty bottle in only a matter of seconds. We repeated every line, every word, and every hand gesture we were told to, each succumbing to RZA’s art of groupthink.
In this way the show was spectacular, but it was suspense more than spectacle that kept us enchanted. The key phrase RZA we echoed was, “if you’re not having a good time, you’re wasting your time.”
I suppose I can’t disagree with his logic.
He had us all on his command and if he said “Wu,” we said “Tang,” it was that simple. Looking back now, maybe it was more hypnosis than a performance, but who cares; there is no doubt the listeners had an incredible time. And I must say it was surprisingly fun to be a part of.
They opened with funky beats falling into soulful melodies and nearing the end of the show even played a rendition of “Come Together” by The Beatles. Arguably the musicians were more incredible than RZA, who is not the most masterful rapper in the hip-hop world and relies more on a few theatrics and pumping up the crowd than a versed talent in linguistics. But maybe that is just the skewing difference between artist and entertainer. Luckily, they played a long set for us, going into an encore with an ode to Old Dirty Bastard that the audience clearly enjoyed. All of which leads me to feel like we were not left shorted at the end of a night that had so much build-up.
A highly orchestrated finale signaled a fitting closing for a tired audience that had been bumping to music for nearly two hours. I headed to the roof to cool off, have a cigarette and take some notes on the show, hearing only sounds of satisfaction and enjoyment among the gathering.
Thanks for coming to Mammoth, RZA. You have made another fan.