The legendary Wu-Tang Clan came to Birmingham on its second stop in the UK with a half-strength line-up. Small posters on the venue’s doors noted on the day of the event that members RZA, Raekwon and Inspectah Deck were absent on their Rebirth Tour due to “unforeseen circumstances”, which prompted cynicism among fans before the gig had even started.
Warm-up artist Yelawolf (recently signed to Eminem’s Shady Records) taking to the stage and rapping in his high-pitch voice and grabbing his crotch at every opportunity (seemingly in self-parody) only bemused gig goers further; and the fact that they was still with no sight of remaining Clan members on stage at 10PM, only aroused suspicion regarding whether the night was going to go ahead at all.
Despite Yelawolf’s often cringe-worthy performance, and then other support act, DJ Semtex, kidding numerous times that Wu members were due to come on in five minutes, however, the diverse crowd managed to stay upbeat, rapping along to Hip-Hop classics such as Nas’ ‘NY State Of Mind’, and chanting “WU-TANG, WU-TANG” right up until the Clan’s eventual arrival, beginning with a short introduction from Masta Killa, at 10.15.
Method Man came out next, grinning, and leading remaining founding members into their set, which included classic hits such as ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ from their 1993 debut album, 36 Chambers. Not excusing that one-third of the Wu was absent (including the deceased Ol’ Dirty Bastard), it was at least incredibly entertaining for the crowd to see the rappers spar with one another on the mic, as well as dip into their large collection of solo albums to further showcase their emceeing talents.
Dutifully going past the venue’s 11PM curfew, the Wu paid their tributes to ODB with renditions of ‘Brooklyn Zoo’ and ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’, which seemed to get the crowd at its most excited. Clan DJ, DJ Mathematics, also gave an awesome demonstration on the decks, scratching and beat juggling with his feet and his hands chained together.
At one point, Method Man decided to crawl over various audience members and stand outstretched on their hands, and then dive and crowd surf his way back to the stage, rousing great cheers and applause from those below and up top. Meth, seemingly out to pay respects to many of the Wu’s long-serving fans for their patience on the night, then came back at the very end to slap hands with the front rowers just as the group was about to depart.
With other commitments seemingly taking priority for certain members over the group’s collective performances these days, the Wu-Tang Clan may not be as strong a force as it used to be. That said, from the evidence of this night in Birmingham, there’s still a definite hunger present in the group (Method Man, particularly) to give the people the classic raw, Kung-fu-inspired Wu-Tang music that originated in the ’90s; and, similarly, from the crowd perspective, there’s still a definite desire to hear it.
(An edited version of this review was published in Brum Notes magazine, July 2011)