Gods of Rap @ SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 12 May
Despite a quantity over quality approach, Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy and De La Soul offer enough genuine delights in Gods of Rap to prove that all hope isn't lost just yet
After years of late arrivals, no-shows, lacklustre stage energy and shoddy sound systems, it's fair to say that Wu-Tang have amassed witheringly low expectations for their live shows. However, the well of goodwill runs deep based on the thousands packed into the Hydro, all willing to fork out £70+ for a chance to see the legendary group. For anyone who's been disappointed by them in the past, there's a certain amount of redemption to be had tonight... but only to a point.
Obviously, it's a huge boost to be supported by two groups of rap royalty. Those who arrive early enough (7pm!) are treated to a short and sweet set from De La Soul, whose wholesome nature puts them at odds with the majority of hip-hop (both now and in their own heyday 30 years ago). For some reason, involving royalty/label issues, they can't (or are refusing to) play songs from their seminal 1989 release 3 Feet High and Rising, beyond a brief, altered version of Me, Myself & I. Despite playing material unknown to most of the crowd, they still manage to set the scene nicely with their clownish antics and solid raps; an easy introduction before the coming abrasion.
Addressing the absence of Flavor Flav, the Gods of Rap poster was altered mere days before the show to read 'Public Enemy Radio' instead of just Public Enemy, not that that helps to dispell the collective disappointment of missing out on rap's most well-known hype man. However, Chuck D, DJ Lord, Jahi and the S1Ws provide ample reason to enjoy this iteration of the group, refining their performance to its essentials with their 55 minutes on stage, battering through a barrage of PE bangers: Bring the Noise, Don't Believe the Hype, Welcome to the Terrordome etc.
Chuck D takes a brief stroll down memory lane to remind the crowd of the time PE, Eric B. & Rakim and LL Cool J played the Barras in 1987 before Timebomb, but is generally more concerned with current affairs (Brexit: Bad. Trump: Bad. Scottish Independence: Good?) and even shows his local knowledge with reference to the Old Firm earlier in the day, leading a very-welcome "Fuck Bigotry!" shout.
The night's host, DJ Premier, pops up in the interludes to amp up the crowd with a selection of hits like Ante Up, Simon Says and even a little Dr. Dre, all while shouting in the world's hoarsest voice, refusing to let the energy sap for a even a second. The same can be said of the Wu-Tang Clan's approach tonight. They're remarkably punctual and show a workmanlike determination to pack in as many songs (or snippets) as possible in their 80 or so minutes.
Only Method Man is missing from the core clan (Young Dirty Bastard takes the reins for his sorely missed father), frustratingly only announced the night before the tour started. He's undoubtedly a great loss, but the other members do their best under the circumstances, bringing real enthusiasm to old classics like Bring da Ruckus, C.R.E.A.M. and Clan in da Front, though other choices seem half-arsed (GZA and Cappadonna deepcuts like The Mexican and '97 Mentality) or just downright bizarre (the cut-and-paste cover of Come Together).
YDB shines as the only person on stage under 48, with his family's trademark electric dreads and Saltire onesie, killing his verses on Da Mystery of Chessboxin' and Protect Ya Neck, and delivering a standout Shimmy Shimmy Ya (though his Got Your Money is cut laughably short). However, his energy and charisma stand in stark contrast to the rest of the clan, who are reliable enough, but generally don't bring the same dynamism. RZA fizzes a couple of bottles of Champagne and Ghostface is reliably magnetic in his half confused, half menacing skulk, but it's mostly business as usual.
By not racing to pack in so many songs, they could give others room to breathe and highlight the nuance and subtlety that makes so many of these tracks so special (like Can It All Be So Simple or GZA's 4th Chamber). A quantity over quality approach is always going to run into diminishing returns, but tonight's show has enough genuine delights (anything involving Chuck D, DJ Lord's outrageous turntabling skills, the mad technical abilities of an engaged Inspectah Deck or Raekwon) to prove that all hope isn't lost just yet, but it may be up to the ominously advertised 'Gods of Rap 2' to deliver the masterclass that tonight could've been.