2019 should, for all intents and purposes, be the best year the Wu-Tang Clan has had in a long, long time. They have not one, but two TV shows and are touring the country celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 1993 landmark Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). They’ve survived public feuds, the critically panned studio LP A Better Tomorrow and Martin Shkreli. They headlined the final day of Desert Daze 2019 on Sunday and, like fellow headliners Flaming Lips and Ween, were supposedly going to perform the album in full.
That didn’t happen. Only 7 of the 9 living Wu-Tang Clan members showed up: Ghostface was nowhere on stage, and with no Method Man, you can’t really perform “Method Man.” With a deep catalog of singles and solo albums — not to mention the sui generis energy of a whole crew of amazing rappers backing up everyone else’s verses — the Wu didn’t have much trouble commanding the stage and getting the crowd to throw up the Ws. The songs are classic, Wu-Tang brings the ruckus, and the crowd raps along. But, still, you can’t put your finger on it: Whenever the entire Wu isn’t assembled in unity, the show just doesn’t feel right.
Regardless, the set was a whole lot of fun. They opened, ironically, with posse cuts “Protect Ya Neck” (Inspectah Deck filling in for Meth, Cappadonna filling in for Ghostface) and “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin’.” As they sailed through “Clan In Da Front,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit” and “Tearz,” everyone on stage was lifting up the others, every song turning into a 10-man shout-along. The set explored solo tracks from GZA, Cappadonna and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who passed away in 2004. RZA, trying to start a moshpit, had the DJ spin “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and they rapped “ayo ayo ayo” instead of “hello hello hello.” This being Desert Daze, taking place on a beach, it kicked up a huge cloud of dust.
Continuing that rock energy, Wu-Tang closed their show with the first-ever on-stage collaboration with retro-funk eccentrics Khruangbin, performing a mostly faithful version of “Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)” that devolved into some playful party jamming and freestyling.
However, the highlight of the night, the moment when the crowd energy was at its peak, wasn’t even by the Wu-Tang Clan per se. It was when Young Dirty Bastard took his turn for “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” “Got Your Money” and “Brooklyn Zoo.” Though Ol’ Dirty Bastard is irreplaceable, his son looks like him, sounds like him and is an uncanny facsimile even when he’s just walking across the stage. Standing on the rail and falling into the crowd and rapping in that unmistakable wild style, the audience was giddy for YDB.
The feeling goes back to something Gerald Casale of Devo said the night before, that the idea of Devo is bigger than the guys on stage and “Devo” could continue even after they’re gone. The fact that someone who’s not technically a Wu-Tang Clan member could provide that much joy and energy to their show makes a similar stance. Wu-Tang will probably be around well after that 88-year embargo on Once Upon A Time in Shaolin. Or, in their parlance: Wu-Tang Forever.
— (@scottgum) October 14, 2019