WU-TANG CLAN at Kool Haus, Thursday, November 28. Rating: NN
Seeing the Wu-Tang Clan in concert is a bit like the early 90s toy Puppy Surprise: you know what you're getting, but you don't know exactly how many will pop out. At 11:45 pm, as the Wu-Tang members emerged one by one to Bring Da Ruckus, the first song on their first album, 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), we learned we'd get two-thirds of the legendary New York nine-man rap collective. ODB died nine years ago (RIP). And according to twitter, RZA had "filming obligations" and Masta Killa got held up at the border.
So, for this Toronto stop of the 20th Anniversary Tour, it was interesting to see how the remaining six jived onstage, and how the crowd responded to each MC. Toronto regular Raekwon is like a revered chief, while Method Man does the lion's share of the theatrics - a Method Man show, on its own, would be pretty great. He is nonstop gregarious energy, and without RZA, the clear and natural frontman - even crowd-surfing by the night's end. He also had really sweet moments of verse, demonstrating that his flow hasn't lost a step in two decades.
The show was a fair smattering of the group's greatest hits, which focused heavily on their individual material - Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit, Method Man (Home Grown Version), Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Gravel Pit - each received very well by those audience members who were paying attention, each gamely performed by an aged 40+ crew.
No one is going to say it was bad seeing the Wu-Tang Clan live. Because seeing your childhood idols live is always great. But they actually weren't that audible or organized. After twenty years, they can wing it really well, but they're still winging it.
The sound wasn't great. In a perfect world, you'd hear the uneasy piano loop for C.R.E.A.M. come over the speakers first, then the crowd would go wild before the beat and rhymes dropped. Unfortunately, the speakers in the Kool Haus seemed to project unidirectionally, so unless you were right in front, it took a while to even realize they were performing one of their biggest hits. Also annoying: the black divider that cuts at an incredibly awkward angle on stage right, making it impossible to see half the stage depending on your angle and position in the crowd.
Sound and sight-line issues can be forgiven, especially for one of the most influential rap outfits playing decades of bangers.
An out-of-control crowd, however, can ruin an otherwise pretty good show.
Unlike the Raekwon solo outing at the Sound Academy in March, where small groups of breakdancers patiently whiled away the hours before showtime, then stood attentive and enraptured; and unlike the Wu-Tang's outdoor Quebec City love-in to tens of thousands of peaceful fans this past July, this was a mess.
They say one bad apple spoils the bunch: if a large per centage of your audience is really high (and I don't mean marijuana high) or sloppy drunk, the vibe is destroyed.
It was nearly impossible to get into the venue, and once in, the show was painfully oversold.
The room was oppressively packed, to the point of constant ire. Granted, there seemed to be a protected core of solid Wu fans deep in the centre of the room. The other 60 percent of us were subject to the shockwaves from those who buzzed around the perimeter and laced in and out of the crowd continuously.
The security guards who had been so intent on not letting people in, seemed nowhere to be found once inside. Within a 10-foot radius of me, there were at least five circa-season-one-Breaking-Bad-Jesse-Pinkmans walking around aimlessly in circles, tripping and stumbling. Other one-off drunks were blustering through the pack so comically, as if fuelled by an immediate urge to vomit.
Incomprehensibly, at 12:29, a mass exodus started flowing out of my side of the room. To top it all off, there was a lot of cigarette smoking. And at the risk of sounding like a total killjoy, in a room that packed, that's a fire hazard waiting to happen. Also annoying if you don't like inhaling cigarette smoke in enclosed spaces or getting burned by stray ciggies.
All this to say, it doesn't matter how hard the six guys onstage are trying, if you are distracted constantly, and have to plant your feet and box out every time you see a pack of bros careening in your direction.
At about 1 a.m., before the encore, everyone started gushing out as if they were in a stadium and their basketball team was down by 20 in the fourth quarter. Disrespectful. A couple of scuffles happened, some guys fell over the coat check barrier. I saw Jamal Magloire - 6'11" former NBA centre Jamal Magloire - get jostled from behind.
All in all: a decently solid effort by an otherwise helpless crew of rap gods, ruined by a bunch of total idiots, and, near the end, one of the few times - concerts or otherwise - I felt legitimately nervous in this fine, fair, safe city of ours.
There have been great Wu-Tang Shows, there have been great Kool Haus shows. This was definitely neither.