Hip-hop review, Wu-Tang gains strength in numbers

FamilyCrime, Law and JusticeGhostface KillahOl' Dirty BastardTravelRaekwonFamily Vacations

Normally, a Wu-Tang Clan show is more remarkable for what it lacks—most of its nine members—than for what it contains—rambling, chaotic performances—but something funny happened on the way to the House of Blues on Wednesday: They all showed up.

Well, almost. But then nobody could blame the other members for Ol' Dirty Bastard's absence (still serving a jail sentence) and whatever unspecified conflict felled Method Man; they were all too busy putting their egos and solo careers aside to uphold their collective legacy onstage. To mangle Meatloaf's well-worn phrase, seven out of nine ain't bad; it's the most Wu members ever on one stage.

To the Staten Island hip-hop collective, it was as strange and impossible a marvel as it was to the crowd; led by ringleader and producer RZA, an extended finale of the seven members, after short solo and small group sets, worked like a tearful rap reunion, all long-lost memories and prideful boasts. They even ran a theme through the thread, busting out all-in-the-family odes like "Reunited," "Clan in the Front" and "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit" while exchanging hugs and talking of the next album, due out in November, like it was a family vacation.

In fact, the group, which built its reputation on its hardened image and menacing beats, was surreally polite, thanking the audience profusely and letting RZA talk almost continuously on the virtues of extending peace, love and unity. Were it not for the swears, threats and brags in "Protect Ya Neck," one could have thought "Thanks for the Memories" was next among the almost three dozen songs partially performed.

Is this the beginning of a kindlier, gentler Wu-Tang? Probably not, but it certainly was a sign of a more effective unit, one that littered the stage for two hours while knocking out a full catalog of hits. This was a real, full-length hip-hop show—something Chicago hasn't seen for a good while and a surprising revelation from a group that rarely shows up at scheduled gigs.

Solo jaunts ranged from brief and frivolous (Inspectah Deck, Raekwon) to stellar (Ghostface Killah's, in particular), but the short snippets were warm-ups to the convergence of the seven to perform most of their seminal 1993 record, "36 Chambers [Enter the Wu-Tang]." Running through the warped piano and string loops of "C.R.E.A.M." and "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" with the hellbent intensity of their studio recordings, the Clan not only finished the songs—which isn't a small victory in live hip-hop—they imbued them with the ragged truth and shadowy atmospherics of the best hip-hop. Call it plain professionalism, but for the most notorious group in hip-hop, it was certainly a night to celebrate.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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