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Wu-Tang Clan @ Kool Haus – Toronto Live Review

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Wu-Tang Clan at Kool Haus, November 28,2013

Wu-Tang Clan — Kool Haus — November 28, 2013 — Photo by Jason Hodgins

Who: Wu-Tang Clan
From: Staten Island, New York
Where: Kool Haus
When: Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Total Score: 8.4/10

[starreviewmulti id=3 tpl=20]

In the weeks following the inauspicious announcement of a Wu-Tang Clan show in Toronto, attitudes ranged from tentative excitement to outright skepticism. The Clan have been notoriously fragmented in the last decade, with the release of 2007’s 8 Diagrams hampered by internal conflict and subsequent years marked by various member’s forays into solo careers and other media ventures. Torontonian fans had many questions: “Will it happen? How many will show up? Do they give enough of a shit at this stage in the game to give it their all?”

Sure enough, things got confusing real quick. The initial show sold out quickly despite minimal promotion, and a second one was added with less than a week left before the date — the same night and venue, a few hours earlier. Cries of speculated ‘rip-off’ were heard far and wide, with various social media platforms inundated by outraged ticket holders decrying the unusual move, understandably concerned that they would receive a show with less energy and more headaches. Many predicted this second show would be cancelled, which it was, but very few of the four hundred people turned away at the door with tickets for the original gig due to “overselling” could have foreseen what must have been a crushing disappointment. To add fuel to the fire, power tripping security and guest list issues turned the foyer into a madhouse, and reports that RZA, Masta Killa and Method Man were not present the previous night in Montreal led to widespread speculation that the show was going to be a complete bust.

Well, the good news is… the show was dope. Very dope, even. At least, for the hour and a half or so the Clan was onstage. By the time they came out, the audience had already been subjected to an unnecessary barrage of wack locals and suffocated by a venue flushed to well overcapacity. Various randoms took the stage to babble pointlessly, with the highlight being what appeared to be the ‘host’ for the evening encouraging “faggots” in the audience to “quit all that ignorant shit”. This same gentleman introduced a female MC with various sexist exclamations, who then rhymed over the “Ice Cream” beat without a shred of ironic self-deprecation before being quickly rushed out of the spotlight. “Wildflower” would have been a nice touch. The lone exception to the pervasive mediocrity on display was Peter Jackson, who’s onstage professionalism stood in sharp contrast to the chaotic organization of the surrounding evening.

Over an hour after they were scheduled to begin their set, six of the eight Wu-Tang generals made their way onstage, one by one for dramatic effect, as “Bring Da Ruckus” set the wheels in motion. Predictably enough, the set focused mostly on their better known “classic” material, with six tracks from debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) sandwiched next to each other in the first few minutes. Method Man was the lone absentee from Montreal who managed to make it to Toronto. Perhaps in celebration of this, a number of his solo songs were included, ranging from seminal bangers such as “Bring the Pain” to more questionable later fare like “Fallout”. His energy level dwarfed the other members, with the expected stage dives peppering an onstage demeanour that struck the ideal genre balance of jovial and confrontational. The only other member hijacking the setlist so frequently was Ghostface Killah, although everyone got their solo shine on to one degree or another — yes, even U-God, who’s cut “Dat’s Gangsta” inspired some puzzled looks from some of the less obsessive Wu Stans in attendance. Presumably to remedy the lukewarm reception to the prior night’s performance, the set was surprisingly lengthy, with some attention paid to sophomore opus Wu-Tang Forever besides the expected “Triumph”, the devastating “For Heaven’s Sake” serving as the clear highlight.

All in all, the members in attendance did an admirable job of salvaging the gig, and it’s hard to knock the potency of their combined efforts as well as each of their individual charisma. However, someone as borderline creepy with their worship of the almighty ‘W’ as myself inevitably had a few complaints. Firstly, a common problem with latter-year performances from veteran groups was certainly at play here — too much material to include considering their multi-generational fanbase, all of whom had different priorities as far as what they wanted to hear. Inevitably, the Clan had to cover all the bases with the ‘hits’, and as such, there was very little room for surprise. Cuts from The W, Iron Flag and 8 Diagrams were almost completely eschewed, and an argument could be made that since all of the members are still touring in a solo context, the amount of weight given to tracks outside of the group albums was unnecessary. Seeing the whole group together is such a rare experience that one would think they would wisely plan the sets around material that is rarely performed by any of the members alone. That said, the generals who are mostly often on the road seem to have a habit of performing each others verses and songs indiscriminately, so I guess I should have seen this coming.

Additionally, it is hard to champion a gig advertised as featuring “the entire group onstage in Toronto for the first time” when two members, one of whom is indisputably the founding member and leader, did not turn up. While Masta Killa had immigration issues, which is a prevalent enough concern these days to warrant a pass, RZA’s apparent ‘film obligations’ excuse just doesn’t cut it. Considering the group has toured without RZA before, I find it hard to accept that he would have been contracted to be there – as has been claimed – and would have simply flaked at the last second. At the very least, this issue should have been addressed either at the show or through the media, rather than being deflected by repeated assertions from the aforementioned randoms between acts that “all of them are backstage right now”… as if anyone really believed it. However, it’s hard to lay the blame at any particular person’s feet without some insider knowledge.

All in all, despite the bogus meet-and-greet, fire code defying claustrophobia, and frequent technical issues from either squealing or muted microphones, the audience walked away from this performance bearing some measure of satisfaction. A near-miraculous event in itself, yes – but a do-rag’s breadth short of life-affirming.

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Written by: Max Deneau
Photos by: Jason Hodgins

THE SCENE


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