Music in Motion Columbus

"The only truth is music." ~ Jack Kerouac

Concert Reviews

REVIEW – The Mythical Figure of NZEEZUS and Resurrection From the Dead

Ed. ~ This is the first article penned for MIMC by Peter Vilardi, the latest addition to our staff. The “house show” took place at an undisclosed location in January 2020, somewhere in Columbus. It may be NSFW for some…

“Did you ever see that guy who came out of the coffin?”

It wasn’t a coffin – it was three large cardboard boxes, spray-painted black and taped together – but it would become a coffin. Much more, in fact.

With a friend’s assistance, I took the coffin upstairs and set it up onstage. It wasn’t a stage, either; it was the living room of a house, outfitted with microphones and a PA system. Most people at the party were out on the porch. The sounds from the porch were getting louder and louder as more partygoers arrived.

My friend Nazar met me at the stage area. He opened the lid to the coffin and lay down, and I closed it behind him. I would not see him again until the end of the performance.

I called everyone in from the porch, and the crowd followed me inside, the smokers tarrying behind to finish their cigarettes. It was quite a large group of people, many of whom had just arrived – after all, it was Nazar’s birthday party. There was a nervous excitement in the air; something was about to happen, and everyone knew it.

My friend Big Cig and I met onstage. He handed me a confetti cannon and sat on a stool near the stage-right speaker. I stood stage left. We made eye contact, and nodded. I stepped up to the microphone.

“Hear ye, hear ye! Listen, and you shall hear our tale… THE LEGEND OF NZEEZUS.”

I turned to a laptop, hooked up to the PA system, and pressed Play.

A solemn organ rang out. We bowed our heads.

A choir of harmonizing voices (all me) faded in slowly. The voice of a narrator (me) intoned dramatically about NZEEZUS, a dead mythical figure “sealed away for thousands of years” who was about to rise again. Beneath my narration was the voice of Nazar, reciting the same narration, but in Arabic. Between that, the organ and loud claps of thunder, the whole piece had an extremely theatrical effect on the audience. A few people got their phones out and started filming. Others stared, transfixed.

“The tomb is opened…”

Slowly, the lid of the coffin opened from within. Nazar was gone; in his place was NZEEZUS. The dead man stood up.

“NZEEZUS… is risen.”

Big Cig and I shot off our confetti cannons into the air. A loud thunderclap resounded from the speakers, and I fell on my knees and bowed to NZEEZUS. The crowd went absolutely nuts – I mean, they were roaring. For a moment, NZEEZUS stood there, soaking it all in, basking in the admiration of the crowd. He stepped up to the microphone, yelling about how it was time for everyone “to get faded as shit” and encouraging the audience to pack in closer. As thunder rumbled, signalling the end of the intro, I got to my feet and passed the second microphone to Big Cig.

The contrast between TVRBIN and the intro was night and day. Where the intro was solemn and cinematic, this instrumentation was irreverent and full of attitude. NZEEZUS, Cig and I screamed the hook. Like most of Nazar’s lyrics, it was very rude, in exceptionally poor taste, and absolutely hilarious. It was built on lines like “Pull up with a scarf lookin’ like a fuckin’ rabbi” and “Money always green ’til the blood spill.” Of course, we were yelling it at the top of our lungs – I yelled the loudest, as I had no microphone. In an instant, the transfixed crowd had become a moving mass of people. NZEEZUS whipped his loyal subjects into a frenzy, yelling arcane references and boastful raps alike. I saw a friend I’d invited to the show, who’d had no idea what he was in for; from the stage area, I could see him, awed and incredulous, nodding his head at the distorted trap beats.

Big Cig delivered his verse in a peculiar growl, screeching things like “Yami on my head while I part the red sea.” No one seemed to know what he meant, but at least they enjoyed it. For the final hook, we whispered the first half, then rose our voices into a full-throated shout. By now, everyone was dancing, shouting and laughing. Over the course of two songs, just over five minutes, we’d taken the crowd from 0 to 100. As the song came to a close, whoops and hollers filled the room. It was on. They were ready for more.

ROTC was an old lo-fi recording from the early days of NZEEZUS. Nazar later told me that he’d recorded it directly into his tablet microphone. A looped electronic sample rang out through the room. We nodded our heads; the audience joined us. A few sang along to the opening lyrics, which were just as crude as those from the last song: “Why is this booty so dense, dense? / I fuck a bitch in the Benz, Benz.” There was a moment, just before the drumbeats came in, where the audio from the song was silent. At that moment, I took the microphone from Big Cig, leaped into the air and screamed “YUH!” while timing my jump so that my boots would hit the floor when the drums kicked in. Taking this as their cue to start dancing, the mass of people began moving and shifting again.

By this time, the crowd had gotten quite a bit closer to NZEEZUS, who was rapping his profane lyrics into the faces of excited audience members. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I realized there were at least 50 people in the living room of this house, maybe more. Previous sets had been exciting, and fairly well-attended, but this was something else entirely. There was something about NZEEZUS that just brought people out of the woodwork. That, and it was his birthday.

“This song is about RuneScape!” NZEEZUS yelled, to the delighted laughs of a few in the crowd before launching into TELEPORT. A familiar sample from the early-2010 computer game, a touchstone of growing up in the Internet age, rang out through the crowded living room. This was, of course, another song with a massive bass/drum drop, and when it rang out the crowd started moving with ferocity. What they didn’t expect was that, almost immediately, the beat dropped back out, replaced with a slightly more subdued beat, as NZEEZUS pretended to look confused and rapped “What?? / OK, what?” This got another good laugh.

I want to pause for a moment to acknowledge something I’m sure you’ve already realized. Most songs by NZEEZUS are, at their core, quite similar: goofy, almost defiant instrumentation backed with crude lyrics, inane humor, and a frankly absurd amount of hubris, but delivered with a theatricality and serious bent that is frankly compelling.

This is something that is extremely difficult to convey literally. If I tell you exactly what NZEEZUS said, and what was happening musically, it will likely not have the same effect on you, the reader. Out of the context of the performance, lyrics like “Never trust a ho, yeah, bitch, you’s a side quest” seem not only absurd, or unworthy of closer analysis, but downright repugnant. But it is precisely this ephemeral quality that makes the NZEEZUS performance so intriguing. He’s not saying or doing anything particularly revolutionary from a content standpoint, and it’s hard to imagine recreating it with the same effect. But, at this time and in this moment, it became so much more. Most of his lyrics are quite crude both in and out of context, so you’ve got to trust me on this.

In any case, this crowd was certainly game for whatever NZEEZUS threw at them – I even caught sight of a few girls giggling at a particularly vulgar punchline or two. (I won’t be repeating everything he said; I’ll leave that to your imagination.) The song ended with him rapping “Let me log off,” to which we’d added the classic Windows “shutting down” sound effect; another laugh, and we were on to the next song.

FOG, another lo-fi tune, was a fixture of early NZEEZUS sets, and usually what he’d use to open the show after his epic introduction. This performance of the song was particularly high-energy, and people who had already caught the live show once or twice delightedly rapped along. By this time, the heat and humidity in the living room was rising, and I quickly shed my track jacket, wiping the sweat from my brow.

This song was popular because of its call-and-response hook at the end, in which NZEEZUS says, “She don’t moan, she say ‘F___ Donald Trump’ / She don’t moan, she say ‘F___ Mike Pence / She don’t moan, she say ‘F___ Ayn Rand.” Between each lyric, Big Cig and I led the crowd in a spirited shout of “F___ ‘em!” I even half-heartedly improvised a few ad-libs about how Atlas Shrugged was “not a good book.” The audience ate it up.

While most of the early material in the set had been performed live in some form or another, the inaugural performance of CRIME was right here at the show. During the slinking keyboard and hi-hat intro, NZEEZUS encouraged everyone to crowd in closer; he and I walked up, until I was inches away from the dancing crowd. As the chorus kicked in, I saw my friend in the audience again. I looked him in the eyes and rapped, “How come you ain’t walkin’ like you talkin’, watch you walk it out / How come you ain’t talkin’ like you walkin’, what you talkin’ bout?”

At this point, the show shifted into second gear. The audience was lightly moshing, with folks crowding around and bumping into one another, moving as one, meeting my rapping with incredulous looks and powerful movement. The energy was intense, and it occurred to me as I finished the chorus that I’d never seen a house show with this much energy. It seemed to occur to NZEEZUS, too, who delivered his lyrics with particular bravado.

The most studio-intensive part of this song was the ending. Inspired by Nazar’s lyrics at the end of his second verse (“Voices in my head won’t stop talkin’ shit / Voices at the party, I don’t care, shut the fuck up”), we’d layered a ton of vocals, all talking simultaneously, on top of one another, along with guitar feedback and random drum hits. The effect was chilling, and the audience stopped dancing, some looking slightly stunned, as we finished the song and bowed our heads, letting the layers of “subconscious thoughts” crash around us. The noise ended with a single sound of guitar feedback, which transitioned directly into the next song.

“At this point… in the performance, or the album… NZEEZUS has woven himself into the inner workings of your psyche.”

Over this dramatic pronouncement, loud, thumping techno beats started ringing out, signalling the start of YA I DID THAT. Somehow, the party got more wild. This was more than a concert, or an album release party, or a birthday party; this was a rave. After the buildup of the last song culminating in chaos, this was a huge release. Now the crowd was really getting into it, dancing and shouting and laughing, bobbing up and down in rhythm as we screamed our lyrics over the blasting house beats and electric guitar. The floor was shaking.

Catching Big Cig’s eye, I looked at him. We both started laughing. This was unbelievable. At this moment, this had to be the wildest house party in town. The hype was simply unchained, and this newfound rush of adrenaline overcame any exhaustion from the first part of the show. As the song’s final notes rang out, and the sample and beats faded away, the crowd absolutely lost it. The lyrics had come true: NZEEZUS had burned an image of himself into their minds. They would never forget this. I certainly wouldn’t.

TRAPCARD another fun-filled, high-energy song, which was built around a sample from the television show Yu-Gi-Oh! This was also a “cypher” of sorts, with multiple guest artists and surprise vocal appearances from our friends. After a quick breakdown, including a chopped-up interlude featuring another infamous Yu-Gi-Oh! snippet (“it’s time to d-d-d-duel!”), we were off and running.

First up was NZEEZUS, whose shouted verse somehow hyped up the crowd even further. (My standards for an exciting house show were rising by the second.) The crowd expected that, of course, but they didn’t expect my friend Narcon to jump on the mic, and they cheered with delight and approval as he rapped.

Next up was my friend Chris Hulse, who was also celebrating his birthday, and who lived in the very house where the show was taking place. As he was recovering from a recent injury, he balanced himself on a set of crutches while rapping his verse. We hadn’t told anyone that he’d be a featured guest on the show, and so the crowd was even more excited and shocked to see him rapping (on crutches!) at his own party. When I took the mic, and delivered my own alliteration, and reference-heavy verse (“Blood Diamond, Chaos Emerald, Phantom Ruby, yuh yuh / SQUAD shinin’ in the rental with the toolies, yuh yuh”), the crowd ate it up. And still the hype rose, increasing in velocity.

Big Cig was last to hop in, and I danced along, matching my movements with his words (“Left arm on my right leg / Right arm on my left leg”). There was a lot of laughter and applause when we finished the song, but it was evident that we, and the audience, were growing tired. After all, it’s quite difficult to sustain that level of hype over an extended period of time.

We slowed things down by playing BAGHDEAD, which had been previously released on “SALT BATH ACID KEEF,” an album by our group SQUAD. It was a great lyrical and creative showcase for Nazar, and we’d included it on the NZEEZUS album because it was his baby. The instrumental was a bit more relaxed than the previous few, allowing the crowd to breathe and relax. A few folks stepped out onto the porch for some air – I could have used some, admittedly – but most stayed, so as not to miss anything.

This song gave a bit of perspective on Nazar’s origins; his family hails from Baghdad, Iraq, and he clearly enjoyed juxtaposing fictionalized hip-hop imagery with exaggerated details of his specific background (“Missiles landed in my backyard / You can get the black card”). The song was also marked with particularly dense and knotty verses from me & Big Cig.

I was beginning to feel strain on my voice, so I lowered my vocal energy just a bit, so as not to lose it. By this time, my memory is a bit hazy; I was beginning to flag, and after my verse I gulped down some water and took a breather. But the energy was sustained, and the crowd remained in the palm of NZEEZUS’s hands. As the instrumental faded out, I yelled, “Make some noise for your king!” The audience roared in reply.

Though our energy was lower than it had been, and the set was nearing its end, we still managed to crank up the excitement for BAGHALIVE, which we’d imagined as a sort of counterpoint to the more subdued BAGHDEAD. The beat was slow, heavy, distorted and punishing, and quite a bit darker than the previous instrumental. Big Cig and I sang some atonal “la la la”s over the introduction, which drew some perplexed looks from a few audience members. NZEEZUS delivered another verse full of in-jokes and absurdly crude references, including an Indiana Jones-themed lyric that I will absolutely not be typing out here – this is a family website.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that these accounts are getting less and less detailed, and being sketched out in broader and broader strokes. Memory has a way of doing that, as we only remember those parts of our lives which are most salient, and the rest is elided into a finely ground dust of hazy recollections.

I’ve also realized, typing a lot of this out, that there are so many details I’ve taken for granted – the opening acts on the show, the fact that it was Nazar’s birthday and album release party, the way that we’d assembled the makeshift coffin just hours before the performance, the several trial-run sets of the “coffin show” that we’d worked out in the prior months, the many studio sessions to make THE LEGEND OF NZEEZUS a great album and a great live show. But I guess, when it comes down to it, none of that is truly important. Everything had fallen into place, leading us to the present moment. We were here.

DETH wasn’t on the NZEEZUS album at all (it was another track from SALT BATH ACID KEEF), but it had gone over so well at the last few shows that we threw it on anyhow. The instrumental for this song is perhaps the most unusual I’ve ever been involved in making, a stop-and-start song with multiple tempos and degrees of heaviness. Big Cig and NZEEZUS presided over the intro, a menacingly slow and layered pulse that seemed to crash headlong into the second part of the song, which was much more driving and chaotic.

It’s worth noting that, by the time I’d rapped my verse, over the slowest and most menacing instrumentation of all, the vibe in the room had distinctly changed. The crowd was moving a bit less and paying attention a bit more, trying to parse out what we were saying. An atmosphere of solemnity, like an encroaching darkness, had enveloped the room. Little by little, those onstage began to bow their heads and leave it. Big Cig got up off his stool and walked into the crowd. Chris hobbled off on his crutches, followed by Narcon. NZEEZUS climbed back into his coffin and sat in it for a moment, staring off into space.

When I finished my verse, I made several “brrrrrrrah!” sounds, imitating a machine gun by rolling the tip of my tongue, and as the song ended, turned off my microphone, put it down, and bowed my head, staring at the heaps of confetti and spilled beer on the wooden floor. It was time for the end.

The choir of voices and the sound of rain from the intro had returned for NZEEZUS IS FALLEN, but in reverse. It was as if time were undoing itself, turning inside out. Again, a narrator (Big Cig this time) intoned dramatically about NZEEZUS, who had “descended into his coffin” and would “continue this cycle of becoming and unbecoming dead, until there is only SQUAD.” NZEEZUS lay back in the coffin, closed his eyes, and shut the lid behind him.

The crowd had taken out their phones again, waiting for something to happen, but nothing would happen… NZEEZUS was dead once again. As a thunderclap rang out, and a chorus of noise and guitar feedback began to fade out, I knelt by the coffin, hanging my head in sorrow, reaching my arms out to NZEEZUS. The crowd followed closely behind me; I could feel first one hand, then many, until almost everyone had laid their hands on my back. As I knelt there, I mourned the dead man, and they mourned with me. NZEEZUS was gone.

Of course, none of this was real, at least, not really. The coffin was three cardboard boxes from Wal-Mart, bound together by spray paint and gaffer’s tape. NZEEZUS was not a god, but a bright young college kid I’d met at a party. The stage was a living room, the crowd was a group of rowdy college kids, and the show was a house party. This legend, this story about him rising from the dead to catch one final fade and then dying again, was just that – a story.

But we had told it, and we believed in it, and we made the crowd believe in it. And so it became real. I wasn’t acting, and neither was the crowd; we had watched a man rise, perform, and die again. And now he was gone, for only “the shifting sands of time” to take him.

The rest of that night is a distant memory; I could tell you about the crowd’s final cheers as the coffin opened and out came my friend Nazar – as himself, once again – or about the rest of the party, or the other sets that night, or even the laughs I shared with my friends that next morning, as we nursed our hangovers and swept up the confetti and consulted various Instagram stories to see clips of ourselves performing.

But none of that matters. The digital clips are gone. The one picture I got from the stage was blurry, and although it conveys the energy of the show fairly well, it certainly doesn’t look very clear. As far as I know, the coffin is still in the basement of the house. Maybe it was thrown out. Most of my memories, and the memories of many on that fateful night, were clouded by alcohol, time, and who knows what else. And even this review can’t tell the whole story. No matter how much detail I include, everything I remember is from my own perspective onstage, watching Nazar do his thing. Most of the whole story is gone. But none of it matters.

What matters is that we had an idea – a really goofy idea, if you think about it – and we committed to it, and we believed in it, and it became real. And now there’s an album, with more shows on the way. THE LEGEND OF NZEEZUS is now a real, actual local legend.

“Did you ever see that guy who came out of the coffin?”

You bet I did.

Setlist

1. NZEEZUS IS RISEN

2. TVRBIN (ft. Big Cig)

3. ROTC

4. TELEPORT

5. FOG

6. CRIME (ft. MC Freeman)

7. YA I DID DAT

8. TRAPCARD (ft. Narcon, Hulse, MC Freeman & Big Cig)

9. BAGHDEAD (ft. MC Freeman & Big Cig)

10. BAGHALIVE

11. DETH (ft. Big Cig & MC Freeman)

12. NZEEZUS IS FALLEN

NZEEZUS – THE LEGEND OF NZEEZUS (full album)

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