Wu-Tang Clan played Tsongas Arena – 11/2
Seeing all nine of Wu-Tang’s surviving members together in one place – yes, that’s RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna – is not such a common sight these days. Like any group with such sizable membership and longevity, the pioneering East Coast crew has both branched out and drifted apart. There’s been RZA as kung fu director, GZA as Harvard lecturer, Ghostface’s prolific run of solo records, Method Man’s distinguished acting resume, delayed albums, internal strife and plenty more to distract from the Wu-Tang Clan as a conventionally functioning rap group in the last 25 years.
But here we were, at UMass Lowell’s midsize hockey arena on Friday night, bearing witness to all but the dearly departed Ol’ Dirty Bastard on stage together, putting aside whatever differences persist to celebrate a certified classic.
As far as albums that might get the anniversary tour treatment go, 36 Chambers is actually a pretty ideal candidate. Its relative brevity worked to its advantage on stage, and it didn’t hurt that, minus a pair of emotionally heavy counterweights in “Can It Be All So Simple” and “Tearz,” every track functioned as a crowd-hyping hit. The alternately streetwise and vibrantly weird lyricism of Wu-Tang’s debut still sounds fresh, and it’s no wonder that most of these songs have remained setlist staples without an anniversary tour necessitating as much. Cuts like “Bring da Ruckus” or “Ain’t Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit” retained every ounce of their riot-starting intensity decades later.
Thankfully, too, there was rarely a whiff of the perfunctory among the nine MCs on stage. Ghostface and Method Man exhibited a particularly infectious enthusiasm, and the whole crew’s energy was bolstered by the bombastic Young Dirty Bastard filling his late father’s shoes, but even the oft-subdued GZA really tore into his verses when the time came.
The set’s momentum inevitably dipped during a sometimes awkwardly-paced set of post-Chambers solo and group cuts, but there was still plenty to like amid Raekwon’s “Ice Cream,” selections from GZA’s Liquid Swords and a singalong to ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” And following that full-on family reunion performance of the group’s definitive LP, nitpicking the setlist felt pointless anyway. The bees had swarmed, and we’d been grateful for the sting.
See photos from the set below.