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Show Review: Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang-Clan
Wu-Tang's Ghostface Killah.
Courtesy photo

Most of the expected elements were here. Kick-off reunion tour show vibe. Sold-out downtown club. Wafting aroma of grape-flavored blunts (curiously, many of the Wu-Tang fans tonight appear to have conditions that require medical marijuana cards). But, the atmosphere in San Diego has never been world-renowned for a receptive hip hop fan base, which is probably why Access Hip Hop (Pacific Beach) isn't a chain of stores and local radio station airplay borders on embarrassing. Blame it on Los Angeles, transplant residents and the other factors - it is what it is.

Now, add in almost 20 years, and the San Diego Wu-Tang audience has become equivalent to a Rolling Stone fan base, an observation clearly evident by a casual glance over to the ticket line. Older fans with teased hair and Abercrombie & Fitch shirts stand with shiny Black AmEx cards in tow, mixed with others in line half their age, cash burning a hole in the pants bought from Karmaloop. Somehow in uniform, both groups furiously updating their Facebook status on the progression of the line and how excited they are for the show. Wu Tang has always had a history of attracting a diverse culture of listeners. Growing up at the beginning of their rise, I noted that an even split between black and whites. Tonight, that was probably more around 40/40/20, which a healthy mix of every San Diego stereotype. Filipino clicks. Black hipsters. White guys with neck tattoos. It's like the Del Mar Fair of hip hop.

When you're going to have such a big, classic headliner like Wu-Tang, unless it's a giant festival, you will struggle with openers that will keep the attention of the above-described finicky audience. This was the case tonight, as a half-dozen various acts strained to keep the crowd from going full revolt, some handling it far better than others. The added problem that while doors opened at 7:30 p.m., Wu-Tang itself didn't actually start until around 12:20 a.m. This meant that by the time Wu-Tang hit the stage, a good portion of the audience was either a) sober and bitchy, b) sober after being drunk hours earlier or c) completely wasted. As the clock approached midnight, the crowd began broiling with boos, groans and sporadic fights. Someone tried to throw a stool from the bar into the audience. 4th and B's security, who have historically been infamous in their methods, were present enough to keep things in control without feeling like a prison yard.

Wu-Tang arrived on stage late, per usual. Can it really be that the group is 18 years old? You probably wouldn't guess it while spinning 36 Chambers, but tonight, the Wu looked a bit haggard. One might suggest that is because they're all middle aged, which is true; Method Man, as the youngest, is 39, with GZA leading the pack at 44. That said, the energy felt like they were slogging through a second wind club crawl in the sticks, not the sold out, kick-off tour in California.

Method Man retained most of the energy, getting the crowd excited with some pre-show jabber over the PA system ("Phillip Rivers is my favorite quarterback") and kept his banter going through-out the show. GZA paced around the stage, bumping into U-God a few times. If I didn't know better, Ghostface looked either higher than most of the audience, or ready for some cartoons and a nap. Maybe both? After about six songs, the group haphazardly found a stride and pounded through a set that consisted of all the hits, which is basically what Wu-Tang has become. A classics tour, supporting a group of artists that uses their collective music as much to entertain an audience, as to promote their own diversification with each members solo career. A cash wielding tool that luckily for us, is used sparingly enough that seeing Wu-Tang, no matter the energy, will always be a general success. However, that jarring, vast empty void in the room tonight could be rightly attributed to the lack of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, but that aside, should be completely blamed on the missing RZA, whose rap persona, group leadership and gritty production style made and defined Wu-Tang. The excuse for his absence was an apparent schedule conflict with his filming in China of the upcoming kung fu movie, The Man with the Iron Fist, a film he co-wrote and will be a co-star along with Russel Crowe . Given how far movies and tours are planned in advance, I call either bullshit or dumb mistake, and you can jump to your own conclusions. Regardless, it's damn near insulting to have a reunion tour without RZA, which is why 4th & B, in a surprisingly friendly move for any club, publicly offered refunds for fans unhappy with his no show.
Overheard reaction after Wu-Tang finished was mostly positive, with comments that ranged from "Epic!" to "Worst shit ever," the latter of which (haters) is to be expected. The crowd leaving 4th & B was met with a sobering welcome back to the reality of how hip hop is really embraced in San Diego: a display of about a dozen cops, arms crossed and in front of their respective police cars.