Concert Review: Wu-Tang Clan at the Kool Haus in Toronto

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There’s so much I could write about the Wu-Tang Clan; they became my all-time favourite hip-hop group when I started studying the history of rap music as a teenager, as I was too young to witness its beginnings first hand.  Ever since 1993, not one year has gone by where Wu-Tang hasn’t put out an album, either as a group or as solo artists (seriously, name a year and I’ll tell you which of the ten members released an album).  What The Beatles are to my dad, the Wu-Tang Clan is the equivalent to me.  They’ve been one of the most recognized, most influential brands in hip-hop, and are now celebrating their 20th anniversary by going on tour and working on a final album as a group.

This is far from my first Wu-Tang concert experience; I had previously seen the entire Clan (minus Ol’ Dirty Bastard, R.I.P.) perform at the 2010 Rock The Bells festival in New York (their home city), where they performed their entire Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album as well as a bunch of other classic songs.  I’ve also been to many shows they’ve put on as solo artists.  I’ve seen Method Man twice; once by himself in January of this year, and again in June when he came back to Toronto with Redman.  I also saw GZA perform twice; once at the 2011 Rock The Bells festival in New York (with RZA and Killah Priest) and again in Toronto during September of 2012, as well as a spoken lecture he gave at the University of Toronto two weeks ago.  I’ve seen Raekwon and Ghostface Killah perform on multiple occasions, including Rock The Bells 2009 in L.A. and 2011 in N.Y.C., NXNE Festival 2012, the Wu-Block tour Ghostface did with Sheek Louch (where I got to meet both of them), and Raekwon by himself, when he performed his Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… album in Toronto in March (where I got to meet him too).

From going to all these shows, I can say that not one Wu-Tang show is the same as the rest.  Different cities have different energies, and different songs are performed when there are variations to the theme of the show (i.e. celebrating specific albums) or the combination of group members performing together.  I can say from experience that Toronto gets a little more hyped for Wu-Tang shows than New York (probably because it’s much more rare to see them), and the performances reflect that; their whole “the energy you give to us, we’ll give back to you” thing isn’t a gimmick.  L.A. is harder to speak for because that was more of a surprise appearance by Raekwon during Busta Rhymes’ set than a full Wu-Tang set.

Going into this show at the Kool Haus (my first time at this venue), I was expecting a lot of energy because even though the individual Clan members have been here many times on their own, this was the first time they all came together as a group to perform, and people go NUTS when only one or two of them are in town.  It was also special because they’re on tour celebrating their 20th anniversary as a group; twenty years of consistently putting out good music at both the underground and mainstream level, and being recognized as one of the greatest rap groups in the history of hip-hop.  The show sold out, and promoters even considered offering a second show a few hours earlier, but decided that would be a logistical nightmare and stuck to one show.

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When I got to the venue, it wasn’t long before the opening acts started the show.  They were all local Toronto/Scarborough acts like Gangis Khan/Camo, Kat (in the pic above), the host Peter Jackson with a live band (in the pic below), and a few other rappers and breakdance crews.  While I don’t know any of their music well enough to recognize the songs, they had some good jams to keep the energy up while we waited for Wu-Tang.  I remember Kat spit some nice verses over classic Wu-Tang beats, and her dancers did their thing too.

IMG_00000547There was a bit of waiting, but I’ve come to expect that at Wu-Tang shows.  There were also rumours spreading that not all of the Clan members made it to the show; RZA, Masta Killa and Method Man had missed their show in Montreal the previous night.  Eventually a painting of Ol’ Dirty Bastard was placed on stage, DJ Mathematics set up his equipment, and the beat for “Bring Da Ruckus” came on.  One by one, the Clan members started coming out on stage to do their verses; Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and GZA rocked the first song, then U-God came out to start “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'”.  Next they got into the classic “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta F*** Wit” and it seemed like the same three members who missed the Montreal show were also missing Toronto, but then Method Man came out for his verse and the crowd got wild!

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The Wu-Tang show was in full effect, and while RZA, Masta Killa and Cappadonna were missing, the six members on stage were still able to put on a hell of a set.  They started with classics off the first album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and then everyone took turns performing solo songs.  Method Man performed “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” (with his usual crowd-walking/surfing routine) and “Fall Out”, GZA performed “Clan In Da Front” and “Liquid Swords”, Raekwon performed “Knowledge God” and “Surgical Gloves”, Ghostface Killah performed his verse on “New God Flow” and did “Mighty Healthy” over a few different beats, and even U-God performed “Dat’s Gangsta”.

Of course they performed their big radio hits like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Ice Cream”, but it was good seeing some straight album cuts too, like “7th Chamber” and “Duel of the Iron Mic”.  There were some issues with a few microphones not being loud enough and I was almost expecting Ghostface to cuss out the soundman like how he did at the 2011 Rock The Bells Fest in New York, but things got fixed about halfway through the set.  This is around when they did their Ol’ Dirty Bastard tribute with “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brooklyn Zoo”, and the mosh pit got hyped again.  I think Method Man also did another stage-dive during “Da Rockwilder”.

Wu kept the show rocking with more hits off the Wu-Tang Forever album like “Reunited” (with a Beatles cover to introduce it) and “For Heaven’s Sake”, and also got into another round of solo hits like “All I Need”, “Ghost Deini”, and “4th Chamber”.  Eventually they closed the official set with everyone performing their verses on “Triumph”, but then did a few extra songs.  Their encore included “Gravel Pit”, “Bring Da Pain”, and “Protect Ya Neck”, as well as a freestyle type of cypher where Method Man and Inspectah Deck spit some verses I don’t think I’ve heard before.

Overall this was a surreal experience, given my context of seeing half of the Clan at their solo shows over the past year and a half, and then coming here to see them all on the same stage together.  Toronto got a really great 20-year celebration with all the shows they’ve put on in the city recently.  You hear stories of how wild their shows were in the 1990’s, but the 20-year experience gives them a more organized chaos with their set masterfully executed.  Even with equipment malfunctions and missing group members, they still rock a live show and you can see they’re genuinely having fun spitting their verses to these songs almost like it’s a cypher on stage.

They have enough material to skip great songs like “Criminology” and “Guillotine (Swordz)” but still give the feeling of a complete show.  A lot of the crowd stuck around after they left the stage, but I think most people enjoyed what they got.  We also need to be thankful the Wu-Tang Clan spent their American Thanksgiving holiday here with us in Toronto.  Below is a video I took of “Triumph”; sorry for the shaky cam, people who were there know how rough the mosh pit got.

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