Concert Review: Wu-Tang Clan at MattyFest in Toronto

“Wu-Tang again?”
“Awww yeah, again and again!”
Protect Ya Neck

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GZA, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Young Dirty Bastard, Method Man, RZA, Ghostface Killah

The legendary Wu-Tang Clan reunited for their 25th anniversary tour over a year ago, and while they hit Toronto with a free concert last September, they have returned for a second show a year later while remaining a united force for the entire world tour. Not only have they been celebrating their 25-year legacy with this world tour, but they’ve also been riding the success of their Emmy-nominated documentary TV series Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics And Men, which explores their origins and rise to fame, and just this week premiered a new action/drama TV series based on their lives, Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Plus, as always, they’ve continued to never let one year go by without new Wu-Tang music being released, 2019 so far seeing a new solo album from Inspectah Deck, a collaborative album between his group Czarface and Ghostface Killah, and Ghostface also just one day before this concert releasing his 15th solo album, Ghostface Killahs.

In the past, the 9 living members of the Wu-Tang Clan have sometimes had obligations from their solo careers and side endeavours get in the way of their appearances as a group, but they’ve been doing their 25th anniversary tour right, firing from all fronts and supporting their various TV and film works, book releases, solo albums, solo concerts (including a Raekwon & Ghostface appearance at Beer Fest back in July), store openings (like Raekwon’s Purple Factory boutique in downtown Toronto), and still coming together to perform every tour date as a group. They’ve done independent club and amphitheatre shows as well as headlined massive music festivals all over the world for the past year, and have returned to Toronto for the inaugural, expanded edition of MattyFest held at Echo Beach.

MattyFest is a grassroots event started by world-renowned Toronto chef Matty Matheson, known for his Vice YouTube series, Munchies. He’s gone from hosting hardcore concerts in the basement of his former restaurant Parts & Labour, to now having this huge two-stage food and music festival at Echo Beach (the first time I’ve seen two stages set up at this venue). Not only would the day-long festival be headlined by the Wu-Tang Clan celebrating their milestone yet again, but it would be filled with an eclectic lineup of artists handpicked by Matty himself, and would include a lineup of celebrity chefs and several local restaurants providing a wide range of food. For simplicity, each restaurant would only have one menu item to sell, and there was a limited supply to minimize food waste; more on how that worked out later.

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I arrived at the festival mid-afternoon, hungry and ready to eat. First thing to do after passing through security was buy your Matty Money, the festival’s token currency used to purchase food items. One Matty Dollar cost $6.00 real life Canadian dollars, and were sold in stacks of 5, 10, or 20 tokens. The idea seemed to work smoothly early on, as rather than pulling out your credit card or digging through cash for every purchase, you simply dropped one or two tokens in the vendor’s bucket and collected your food. The vendors were spread out all throughout both the Echo Beach grounds and the general vendor area normally used for the neighbouring Budweiser Stage’s concerts. The latter area is where the smaller second stage was set up, and where I decided to start things off.

Matty Matheson himself was scheduled to make an appearance at the smaller “Matty Stage,” and he got on just as I was munching down a couple of tasty tacos by Balam. Not being a comedian or a musician, he came out to sort of just thank the crowd for showing up, talk about how this festival got started in the basement of his old restaurant, his heavy drug use during those times, and did a Q&A with the fans. It was a short and entertaining bit, but once I finished my tacos, I made my way over to the main Echo Beach stage, where Danny Brown would be performing.

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Danny Brown

This would be my first time seeing Danny Brown perform live (finally). He’s been relatively quiet on the music scene lately, his last album being 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition, but that’s all changed within the past week, as he’s announced his upcoming fifth album, uknowhatimsayin¿executive produced by the legendary Q-Tip and dropping October 4th. He’s got a new look with his hair cut and his teeth straightened, but his set would mostly be throwbacks, as he started off with one of my favourites off of his XXX album, “Die Like A Rockstar.” He would perform several songs off of that 2011 album, including favourites like “Lie4,” “Adderall Admiral,” and “Monopoly,” with the crowd shouting out his witty punchlines with him. It was dope to see how effortlessly he projects his unique, wide-ranged vocals when rapping every bar.

Danny’s set would mostly flow chronologically, as after he performed his selections from XXX, he moved on to his 2013 album, Old. With the way that album is split up between the serious Danny on Side A and the goofy Danny on Side B, he strictly stuck to the party vibes on the second half of the album, starting with “Side B (Dope Song)” and getting the crowd to bounce to club favourites like “Dip” and “Smokin & Drinkin.” While some of the crowd brought that energy, Danny would later acknowledge that it was a challenge to get hyped after eating all this good food and getting full. Next, he’d perform the loosie single “Grown Up” before getting into some songs off of his latest Atrocity Exhibition album.

The blend of EDM and Hip-Hop made for an awesome, energetic live performance for songs like “Ain’t It Funny” and “When It Rain.” Danny would also rock his verse from the dope posse cut “Really Doe,” before finally taking a break to talk to the crowd. He would plug his new Viceland TV show, Danny’s Houseand also his new, upcoming album, and would perform the brand new single produced by Q-Tip, “Dirty Laundry.” He would then close out his set by performing his guest verse on the Rustie song, “Attak,” leaving the crowd hyped and in a good mood. It would then be time for more exploring.

Making my way back to the Matty Stage, I spent some time taking in a Jazz band called Standing On The Corner, who have some Hip-Hop roots and have collaborated with the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Solange before. They had a small crowd gathered around them as they jammed out on their instruments, including two saxophone players, drums, percussion, guitar, and upright bass. Most of the people in the area were at the food vendors getting their dinner, and so their performance felt more like background music.

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With this being MattyFest, the most popular food vendor of course was Matty’s Patties. They had the longest lineup even earlier in the day, and by this point it was still a near 20-minute wait to get your hands on one of those delicious, juicy, double-patty cheeseburgers. Lawd Jesus. I had no problem taking my time with it, as the music lineup would have some Folk and Punk Rock bands before Wu-Tang would hit the stage with more Hip-Hop. After enjoying my burger, I took my beer and explored the festival grounds some more, and noticed some of the food vendors on the way back to the Beach Stage were starting to put up their Sold Out signs.

This didn’t affect me in the slightest since I already ate, but later would find there were plenty of fans only coming to see certain bands, which would cause problems for the festival. With fans arriving late, Matty Money was still being sold to them for food items, but then the food vendors would be sold out of food, making the tokens useless. The festival scrambled to get more food on site and change their policies on Matty Money, posting on social media throughout the evening with updates that allowed fans to use their Matty Money towards merch, and later, only at the end of the night announcing that cash refunds for the physical tokens could be collected on site at the box office. Fans who arrived late and left early got screwed, but my own festival experience would continue to be dope.

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Now back at the Echo Beach Stage, there would be a Punk Rock band called Descendents performing before Wu-Tang. While their catalog goes back to the early 1980’s, this was my first time experiencing any of their music. They had that classic sound of fast-paced Punk Rock, bringing the right energy for a mosh pit to stay active dead center in the crowd for their whole set. Fans would crowd surf throughout their set, keeping it safe for the most part, and the lead singer would often come down to the barricade to get right up close to the crowd.

Descendents rocked the crowd for a solid 45 minutes, and then made way for The Wu-Tang Clan to go on next. There would be some time for the stage to get cleared for the army of emcees about to hit the stage, and pretty soon DJ Mathematics would get himself set up behind the turntables, with the jumbo screen behind him showing the album cover of the classic Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The screen would then show the trailer for RZA’s upcoming film, Cut Throat City, as well as the trailer for the Clan’s newly released Hulu TV series Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Then, with the music from the Wu-Tang Forever Disc 2 Intro playing him in, The RZA himself graced the stage to introduce The Wu-Tang Clan.

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Left to right: GZA, Inspectah Deck, Young Dirty Bastard, Masta Killa, Raekwon, RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man

While last year’s Wu-Tang show in Toronto had the Clan perform their entire 36 Chambers album in track listing order, with the entire group coming out to “Bring Da Ruckus,” this one would be vastly different. RZA would introduce his fellow Clan members one at a time, and they would each perform verses as they were introduced. Starting with the head when they form like Voltron, RZA brought out his cousin GZA, and together they got the show started with their verses from the Wu-Tang Forever cut “Reunited.” Next, RZA would introduce “one of the greatest lyricists of all time,” Ghostface Killah, who came out performing his song “Mighty Healthy (Mighty Deadly).”

Taking their time to bring out the rest of the Clan, GZA and Ghostface would perform their verses from another one of Ghost’s Supreme Clientele joints, “Wu Banga 101,” a song I have never seen performed live even with all the years of going to Wu-Tang concerts. With Witty Unpredictable rarities like this, it was already shaping up to be a Wu-Tang show unlike all the others. Next, Mathematics would play the dialogue “he looks determined without being ruthless,” and the crowd all cheered as they knew which Clan member was coming out next. It would of course be Raekwon The Chef gracing the stage to perform “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” getting the crowd hyped!

With Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album on the mind, RZA introduced yet another Clan member, bringing out Inspectah Deck to rock one of my favourite Wu joints I’ve been waiting years to see get performed live, “Guillotine (Swordz).” Deck of course killed his verse, followed by an enthusiastic Ghostface who you could tell was excited to rock this one for the first time in years, and Raekwon even jumped in for part of his own verse, but cut the song short when he went acapella and couldn’t hear the crowd rapping along with him. You never know when the Clan is going to perform an entire song from beginning to end, or cut it after one or two verses in favour of filling their limited time slot with more songs.

Next up, RZA would introduce Masta Killa, who came out performing the reggae-influenced “One Blood Under W.” Now with more than half the Clan on stage and having performed several rarities and solo joints, they started getting into the classics off of that 36 Chambers album that everyone knows. The crowd got hyped as they began performing “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit,” with RZA and Deck nailing their verses, and then there was an eruption of energy in the crowd as RZA introduced Method Man mid-song and brought him out for that third verse. The energy was cranked as they continued on, RZA next introducing the first-born son of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, bringing out Young Dirty Bastard to cover his father’s verses on “Shame On A Nigga.”

They would next perform “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’,” and we were expecting U-God to come out and set it off with his first verse, but it turns out he couldn’t make it to this concert. Instead, the Clan got the crowd to help cover his opening verse to the song, before Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, YDB, and Masta Killa all nailed theirs. We now had as much of the Clan as we were going to see on stage, with U-God and Cappadonna being the only members to mysteriously miss this one. They would continue with more 36 Chambers highlights, with the music videos playing on the screen behind them. Method Man would list off the Clan members before performing his solo joint “M-E-T-H-O-D Man,” and Raekwon and Inspectah Deck would join him to perform “C.R.E.A.M.”

The Wu-Tang Clan would close out their 36 Chambers segment with all members rocking their verses from “Protect Ya Neck,” with YDB masterfully channelling his late father’s energy on stage, and Masta Killa stepping in with a 4-bar freestyle where U-God’s verse would normally go. The show was far from over though, as the Clan took a minute to talk to the crowd, shouting out our NBA Champion Toronto Raptors, and Mississauga-born tennis star Bianca Andreescu, who had just hours prior became the first Canadian to win the U.S. Open Championship. The Clan would continue to rock some champion-worthy joints of their own, as they got into a performance of GZA’s “Duel of the Iron Mic,” with RZA spraying champagne on the crowd during the crescendo of Inspectah Deck’s verse.

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After Ghostface performed “Fish,” the Clan did an energy check by getting the crowd to sing along to a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” The energy check of course led to the most hype song of the evening, as the Clan got everyone on the beach to jump as they performed “4th Chamber,” with Ghostface bringing all the energy to his verse, and RZA restarting the track for more jumping and moshing before rocking his own verse. With that mosh pit energy in the crowd, DJ Mathematics then played Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for the hell of it, before RZA proclaimed he needed some young energy on stage. This of course led to Young Dirty Bastard taking charge as the Clan did their usual tribute to the late ODB, but with that youthful YDB energy.

Young Dirty Bastard jumped across the stage and juggled his microphone, stunting as he masterfully covered the ODB classics “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” “Got Your Money,” and “Brooklyn Zoo.” The crowd was hyped and into the performance 100%, rapping along with YDB, and even lifting a fan in a wheelchair to crowd-surf. The rest of the Clan had excited looks of shock seeing the wheelchair being lifted above the crowd. With the crowd bringing the right energy, the Clan hit them with another up-tempo joint, with Method Man nailing the fast flow on his “Gravel Pit” verse.

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There would be another break for the Clan to calm things down and talk to the crowd. Raekwon took the time to tell the fans about his Purple Factory boutique store at 611 Dundas Street East, which he just had the grand opening for earlier in the day. They also mentioned their friend and frequent collaborator Streetlife was celebrating a birthday, and so the crowd lit up their cellphones and lighters for the ‘Gram, and kept them lit as Raekwon performed his verse from the mellow “Can It Be All So Simple.” In one last burst of energy, the Clan all came together once more for an epic performance of the classic “Triumph,” with Method Man enthusiastically cheering on his fellow Clan members as they each spit their verses. The way this song brings the whole Clan together is always magic to see, with little moments like Meth encouraging Ghostface to nail the enunciation of his verse when he’s going berserk on the mic, and Raekwon bursting out in laughter just as he’s about to spit the last verse acapella.

This was the last official song of the evening, as the Clan would then have some fun getting the crowd to chant some of their iconic hooks with them before saying peace. They notably gave respect and made light of the white fans in the crowd censoring themselves as they chanted “shame on a _____ who try to run game on a _____. Most of the Clan would leave the stage after their usual peace chant, but Ghostface Killah would stick around by himself for a bit, doing a rare, impromptu performance of “Holla” off of 2004’s The Pretty Toney Album. The soul sample used on the beat would borderline drown out his mic, but Ghostface looked to be having a blast, just wanting to rap and enjoy himself on stage. He’d then toss some water bottles out to the crowd as we chanted for an encore, but the Clan would not return as DJ Mathematics packed up his gear. The crowd cleared out, some joining the afterparty at The River Bar just before the gates, others just finding out that Matty Money refunds were available and joining the line for that.

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Overall, despite the hiccups, the inaugural MattyFest seemed to be a success. There were the logistical issues of selling more food tokens than food available for sale, causing a last-minute scramble to give fans a refund, but with some work this can be improved on for next year. Otherwise, it was a great festival, with a cool, eclectic mix of artists and fans coming together for a fun time. I would’ve liked to see more Hip-Hop in the lineup, but of course the Punk fans would probably want to see more Rock, and overall it was a solid balance between the various genres of music represented, with fans from all walks of life coming together. If MattyFest could just fix the issue of running out of food before dinner time, they would be a festival Toronto would gladly welcome back annually.

 

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