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Having witnessed the Wu-Tang Clan in their first Richmond appearance at Ivory's Uptown Lounge in 1993, I had low expectations for their Richmond stop on their reunion tour. I remember, because I have the videotape: an unorganized group of street toughs, pacing the stage like caged lions, bumping into each other and stepping on each other's verses. Their live performance mirrored the production quality of their first album: unpolished and unfinished. The brought to the small crowd rough and raw that night, they way they liked it.
At Toad's Place last Friday night Jan. 18, it looked like they might not bring it at all. The clan was more than an hour late and the crowd was subject to successive rounds of makeshift entertainment. First, a group called the Foot Soldiers performed. It soon became evident that they had skipped basic training. Then, an emcee selected three women from the audience for a unarranged dance contest. They gyrated and shook to hip-hop hits with varying degrees of mediocrity. The winners allegedly got some money, the losers got humiliated. They all should have known better.
Finally, The Wu-Tang stormed the stage, bringing with them a camera man and their respective entourages and girlfriends, who stood behind and beside the stage. What they didn't bring was Method Man. Instead, there was a Meth look-a-like, Streetlife, along with Wu-associate Cappadonna and several other Wu-affiliates who grabbed the mic from time to time. It was a confusing spectacle that made me wonder how many hangers-on would be getting a cut from Method's share of the booking fee that night.
The clan was several songs into their set before they spoke to the crowd. Raekwon looked out into the sea of raised white hands and spoke of his allegiance to the group's dedicated fanbase. "We ride for the people that represent our first album," he said.
The group then went into their debut single,"Protect Ya Neck," and followed it with their ode to capitalism and determination, "C.R.E.A.M." As was typical for the night, their performance was tame and empty without the raspy vocals of Method Man. But most of the people in the crowd, who were probably collecting Pokemon cards during Wu's heyday, didn't seem to mind.
Ghostface Killah carried the clan on his back, at times delivering a focused and inspired performance, but it wasn't enough to get them to the finish line. The show came to a pathetic end as "Take it Back," from their new album "Eight Diagrams," played and group members walked away from the stage, seemingly in reference to their reported dissatisfaction with the project. The stunned crowd was unsure whether to leave and stood quietly as group members milled about the stage. I should have expected less. - Craig Belcher