by Griffin Waterman with photos by Jesse Menendez
Going to a Wu-Tang Clan show is always something of a gamble. At a show at the Congress a couple of years ago, RZA and Raekwon were absent, GZA was visibly intoxicated, and half of the other members were phoning it in for much of the set. By contrast, their performance at Coachella last year featured all nine living members and a live band augmenting their beats. They had clearly rehearsed, and everyone seemed to care about what they were doing on stage.
With all of the Clan’s recent infighting, yesterday afternoon’s performance at Riot Fest could have gone either way. It ended up being somewhere in the middle, but closer to the Coachella end of things. Method Man was missing, and GZA was still drunk (or his breath control is basically nonexistent at this point in his career; it was hard to tell), but in every other way the performance was great. Losing the group’s most engaged live performer could have really hurt the show, but RZA worked in overdrive to pick up the slack left by Meth’s absence, and everyone just seemed happy to be on stage together, which is far too rare for late period Wu-Tang.
This set list had few surprises, but no one was complaining about the Clan running through most of their debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), two highlights from Wu-Tang Forever (“Reunited,” and “Triumph”), and selections from their solo albums. Cramming all of those songs into an hour long set forced them to cut some verses from group songs or have solo songs reduced to one verse and a few choruses. Even within these constraints the members made the most of their individual showcases. Cappadonna gave a thundering performance of “Run” from his underrated solo debut The Pillage. U-God busted out some endearingly silly dancing during “Dat’s Gangsta” from his own first solo album. GZA got a whopping three songs from his classic Liquid Swords album. And even though they weirdly didn’t perform anything from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Raekwon dominated the proceedings with an acapella rendition of his closing verse from “Triumph.”
Those few surprises that the Clan did have were mostly amazing. Ghostface, Rae, and Cappadonna put in a great performance of the Ironman deep cut “Fish.” Killah Priest (who almost beat out Masta Killa for the ninth spot in the group’s original lineup) joined Ghostface, RZA, and GZA on Liquid Swords highlight “4th Chamber.” They covered the Beatles’ “Come Together” in the middle of their set, a moment that started out inducing head scratching but quickly turned into a rousing sing along. Even the odd choice of ending their set with just U-God’s verse from “Gravel Pit” couldn’t dampen the mood that the Clan had cultivated over the course of their hour. The group clearly knows what their audience wants, and for the most part that doesn’t include anything made after 2000. The set was fan service at its finest.
Now we just need to hope they can keep getting along long enough to get that new album out.