Live Review: Wu-Tang Clan Still Have It In Spades (26/2/16)

The anticipation and excitement in the air at Brisbane’s picturesque Riverstage are absolutely palpable tonight. It marks the first time seminal rap crew the Wu-Tang Clan have touched down to play shows in Australia in almost five years. Their status, as per usual, has been up and down and in the air since then, apparent disconnect between key members stalled and stuttered the release of A Better Tomorrow; their half-comeback half-commemoration album that arrived in late 2014 to mixed reviews.

They sold their lone copy of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin to pharma-fuckface Martin Shkreli in that time also, publicly beefing with him ever since. True to the turbulence and tumult that has long surrounded the Staten Island collective, even after the tour was announced there had been some doubt as to whether it would happen and who would show, the final lineup performing tonight not announced until just a few weeks ago.

They made it though and that’s all that matters. A lot of people in the crowd are probably expecting a life-affirming set this evening and I’m eager to see if Wu-Tang deliver.

Taking the coveted support slot, one that sorely rankled one of his contemporaries, is Melbourne MC Ivan Ooze. He’s had a busy enough week already, releasing a brand new single and video, getting into the studio with none other than Ghostface Killah as well as supporting the Wu-Tang Clan at their prior stops in Sydney and Melbourne too. Say what you will about the man, he has the crowd going off early, playing the role of the hungry young up-and-comer to a tee, shrieking and blazing across every inch of the stage.

All indications are Ooze is on the up and he absolutely made the most of his opportunity tonight.

And then it’s time for the wolves, who bound onto the stage and drop Bring Da Ruckus without hesitation. Absent are Inspectah Deck, Method Man, U-God and Cappadonna, but the five members accounted for: RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Masta Killa and the aforementioned Ghostface, backed by DJ Mathematics, rip through their set in such harmony that you’d forget there were ever even whispers that they weren’t all on the same page.

People are losing their ever-loving shit and screaming every word even while they wait in line at the bar, the mosh at the front looks like a tornado of limbs.

Reviews of their Sydney show bemoaned technical difficulties and initial sloppiness marring what finished up as a stellar set, but there’s none of it in Brisbane tonight, everything going off without a hitch. They’re not wasting any time on new material either, reaching for the top shelf of their back catalogue from the open and playing hit after hit; Clan In Da Front and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta Fuck Wit’ both played early to a raucous response.

It’s very clear how much this group means to people, the crowd here tonight; an eclectic mix of hipsters, gangstas, Gen-Xers, bogans and everything in between throwing up Ws and shouting every line back at the Clan with heartfelt honesty. Several of the dudes in front of me look like they’re having out-of-body experiences; eyes glazed over, rapt at the entire spectacle.

Wu-Tang play to that crowd remarkably, initiating call-and-response in every other song, imploring the crowd to raise their phones and lighters. C.R.E.A.M. and Can It All Be So Simple set highlights. They take a breather to allow Mathematics an extended solo run on the decks ‘taking it back to old-school hip-hop from the Bronx’ and it is nothing short of incredible. At one point he’s somehow scratching with his own foot and everyone loses it. GZA gets some time to lead, a menacing 4th Chamber off his Liquid Swords album another highlight.

There’s only one point in the set that feels out of place, where RZA admits they aren’t all about hip-hop and that they ‘like other music too’, before playing Come Together by The Beatles and Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. It just feels like an unnecessary distraction even though the crowd largely gobble it up.

They pay tribute to the recently departed David Bowie and Earth, Wind And Fire‘s Maurice White, both receiving huge cheers, before redeeming themselves by paying tribute to their own departed in Ol’ Dirty Bastard and playing a medley of Shimmy Shimmy Ya and Got Your Money that are wildly received.

RZA laments the 10PM Riverstage curfew (thanks a lot, waspy riverfront residents of Brisbane) and states that they’ll be fined $10K for every minute they play over (‘Fuck the money, do it anyway!’ one person roars). He asks if we want to hear more songs and everyone obviously cheers, the rising brass of Gravel Pit heralding absolute bedlam in the moshpit.

I don’t expect to ever elucidate on what Ol’ Dirty said and shout ‘I’ll fuck yo’ ass up’ that loud again in my lifetime, but I’m glad to be doing it along with thousands of others here tonight. I’m involved in a head knock towards the end that has me seeing stars for a second but pure adrenaline means I’m barely even fazed.

The crowd are wild and braying for more. The Clan bring out the promoters responsible for getting them here, a process that must have been painstaking and full of uncertainty, and they take a rightful bow. The clock has struck 10 though and when Ghostface takes the mic again it isn’t to rip into another tune, it’s to tell us all to head to Oh Hello for the official after party, the crowd beyond disappointed.

Despite the early ending and despite any sentiment that they don’t have it together or they couldn’t recapture any of what they had 20 years ago, this was still a momentous occasion and one that will be remembered by those in attendance for years. Raucous, dirty, violent, cult-like and most of all fun, this may not have been quite the Wu-Tang Clan everyone grew up with (Method Man’s absence in particular felt like a significant hole) but there is no denying the members present tonight are still possessed of the same quick witted sharpness and engrossing showmanship they’ve always had, despite getting on in years.

They knew exactly what everyone wanted to hear and knew all the right nostalgia buttons to press. It’s impossible to determine definitively whether the camaraderie onstage was genuine or for show, but the vibe I got was certainly the former. If you were disappointed tonight overall then you might just be far too difficult to please, I thought they were tremendous and everyone around me seemed to agree.

Here’s to hoping tonight wasn’t the last time the Wu-Tang Clan bring their unique and intoxicating brand of ruckus to Brisbane.

(Photo by Michelle Grace Hunder for Howl & Echoes. See the full gallery here)