Strange things are happening in Tripod – it’s 9.30pm and it looks like the Wu-Tang Clan might arrive on time. OK, so it’s been billed as “9pm sharp”, but this is as close as you’ll ever get. As DJ Mathematics drops the “Wu-Tang swordstyle” sample and the Clan bound on stage to Bring Da Ruckus, we’re rubbing our eyes like a wino in an ’80s film who’s just seen General Zod or the Delorean.
With a rap sheet full of no-shows, half-shows and weed-induced lateness, the Staten Island hip-hop crew never make it easy, but here they are on stage at a respectable time – who’da thunk it? Previous live debacles aside though, the Clan are always worth the risk. They may still be running on goodwill fumes from their 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), but that tank won’t be empty for years. 36 Chambers was a game-changer that saw a bunch of New York urchins batter their way into the charts with scattershot violent rhymes, stark dusty beats and a surreal kung fu mythology that’s still part of their doctrine after five studio albums, countless solo efforts and Wu-affiliated projects.
We already knew Wu-Tang producer and de facto leader RZA would be out of the picture in Dublin, under “contractual obligations” for his Man With the Iron Fist directorial debut. Inspectah Deck bowed out and Raekwon already donned his “green drawers” in Dublin around Paddy’s Day – the Chef’s not back for second helpings. Without three founding members, they’ve some big shoes to fill, but Method Man’s size 14 Nikes are up to the job. He missed last year’s so-called ‘Reunited In Full’ tour, chasing dollar signs filming a CSI episode, so he’s making amends as the unofficial master of ceremonies – pogoing, stagediving and tag-teaming his partner in crime Ghostface Killah. Of the classic 36 Chambers line-up, we’ve also got GZA, U-God and Masta Killa, with part-timer Streetlife celebrating his call-up by toking on a never-ending spliff most of the night. Streetlife and his stash gets Method man’s approval – namechecking him in the intro to Method Man, while riffing with the crowd: “Y’all know why I love Ireland – Method Man loves everything green.”
As in the show we caught in London’s Brixton Academy last summer, 36 Chambers gets the lion’s share of the setlist, as they tear through Shame on a Nigga, Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ and C.R.E.A.M. as the crowd gets all culty with the Wu signs – thumbs together, palms forward in the shape of a ‘W’. But after last year’s capers in Brixton (fluffing lines, spraying each other with Cristal and plugging merchandise mid-song) they’re a different beast in Dublin – forming like Voltron, hitting rhymes bang-on and giving each other’s verses space to breathe. Method Man steals the show for sure, but U-God goes toe-to-toe with him on Gravel Pit, and unsung hero Masta Killa gets one of the cheers of the night with a perfect acapella rendition of his solo track No Said Date. But there’s always one – GZA is hanging back on the outskirts like a glazed-over wedding guest who can’t wait to get the family duties over with. So often the salvage man when a Clan gig is on the brink of collapse, he’s having a bit of a nightmare out there. It sounds like his mic is turned off for Clan in da Front, and he doesn’t even bother with his verse on his own solo track 4th Chamber from Liquid Swords, cutting it short after Ghostface’s intro. GZA’s bad day at the office is a mystery, but the smart money’s on Streetlife’s bag of weed.
As always, absent friends alive and dead get a shout-out. Raekwon is represented by Ice Cream and a raucous Criminology early in the set, and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s spirit is resurrected briefly for the wild-eyed Shimmy Shimmy Ya and Got Your Money, the unlikeliest of chart smashes that still gets played in cheesy discos up and down the country. Then as Mathematics drops the first few bars of Triumph, we wonder who’ll take on Inspectah Deck’s intro, which has to be the greatest verse on any Clan record. Streetlife just about nails it and the six MCs play out the Wu-Tang Forever anthem, circling the stage and trading rhymes, before Method Man jumps into the front row and gets carried along standing up, arms outstretched, having a cheesy rock god moment. They deserve the daft posturing at the end – Wu-tang pulled this one off. The saga continues…
Originally in state.ie. Photos by Alan Moore for State