I arrived at Fortune Sound Club, welcomed by piss-drunk rap nerds slurring Wu-Tang lines outside. Inside, the opening acts were warming up the crowd, who responded with lackadaisical hand waves and fist pumps. The crowd came out in their best hip-hop uniforms: fitted caps, various Wu-Tang t-shirts and overpriced sneakers.
Openers Stack Steady and HouseHold held it down in true Vancouver fashion, smoking weed on stage while belting out anthems about, you guessed it, weed. As the club filled up with restless Wu-Tang heads and drunk Vancouver gangsters, Wu-Tang affiliate L.A.D. (a.k.a. La the Darkman) took the stage, performing some classic Wu songs, and then moving into his own material, offering familiar guns/money/cocaine raps, but with a lyrical precision and fervid delivery that warranted a closer listen.
By this point, “W” hand signs and Wu-Tang chants were in full effect, and on a quick cigarette break, I caught a glimpse of the Chef himself, exiting a black Mercedes Sprinter van, clad in all camouflage, blunt in hand.
Around 12:30 a.m., after what felt like an eternity of anxious jostling and an odd Seinfeld bassline interlude, Raekwon made his way to the stage in a whirlwind of smoke and bravado. The crowd was now whipped into an alcohol-and-nostalgia-induced frenzy for “C.R.E.A.M.,” followed by “Ice Cream” (coincidence?), screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
After a brief introduction and history lesson on “real hip hop,” the God continued to bang out classic tracks, including “Rainy Dayz,” “Eye For An Eye”, and later “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Protect Ya Neck,” peppered with some new tracks for posterity. Rae then introduced JD Era, the first Canadian artist signed under the Wu-Tang umbrella. He was featured prominently in Raekwon’s set, making it clear that the tour was, in large part, to promote this new inductee.
Era’s performance was underwhelming, especially when juxtaposed with the effortless flow of Raekwon. His delivery and stage presence were solid, but his lyrics didn’t have the distinctive voice or memorability that characterizes much of the early albums that earned Wu-Tang its iconic status.
The show had the feel of a torch-passing ceremony, and while the younger generation was certainly hungry and eager, I couldn’t help but feel that selling this young MC under the the Wu-Tang brand was somewhat disingenuous. But, Wu-Tang is a brand (literally and figuratively), and as such, will continue to expand on the strength of its reputation. All in all, Raekwon put on a pretty strong show and gave the crowd precisely what it wanted: Wu-Tang songs they knew and loved.