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 Neil Kulkarni, Melody Maker, 3 May 1997)

OK, YA WANNA KNOW what the new LP sounds like, right? Oh, man, oh Jesus, it's the bomb, baby. It's incredible. It's the LP that's gonna make Wu-Tang Clan the biggest hip hop band in history. But, until they sort their live shit out, they'll never be perfect. And that's a damn shame.

Tonight is an enjoyable chaos at best, a f***ing shambles at worse, and all points in-between. Tonight is like Jesus rising from the tomb, stubbing his toe, bumping his head and falling over wailing "Mr Grimsdale". Tonight is a chance forsaken.

And that chance is the motherlode. Wu-Tang, like most bands who develop in isolation from the mainstream then storm it (Manics, Public Enemy), are world-size. Theirs is the most complete aesthetic extant in Nineties pop. A whole new imagery, a whole new music, a whole new rap. Something that you either get or never will, that you realise will occupy you into the next millennium or just sounds like noisy gibberish. And so, when you let the Wu-Tang in, it's total, it's devotional. It should be inspirational. The live setting should be made for them, should be just as overwhelming as the "rekkids", should be total theatre in much the same way that Public Enemy bought EVERYTHING they had to every stage they hit.

Tonight, we get a backdrop, Westwood spinning rap's Greatest Hits, a long wait, three tracks from the new LP over the PA and then they're on. Three points: first, they look f***in' fantastic, enormous, looming over the pit as larger-than-life icons. Diving off the speaker stack and ripped to shreds, they look somehow different to their audience; the right distance kept. ABOVE. Secondly, the sound (yawn) is f***ing diabolical. Where Westwood (aww yeah, indeed, no doubt) had butts busting on the bassbins, Inspektah Deck has his wicked flex-skills fed through what sounds like clock-radio speakers, all tweet-tweet and no woof-woof, blowing the sound completely at least twice, never managing to out-pump the bellowing shoutiness of GZA, Meth and ODB (hereafter known as Osirus). And, thirdly, the holy trinity don't help by sacrificing the precision and head-spinning co-ordination of their vinyl raps for a live shouting contest. Yeeuch.

So we get a sloppy 'Shame On A Nigga', a worse 'Clan In Da Front', an unforgivably weedy 'Bring The Pain', a nigh-on drowned 'Tical', a surprisingly slamming 'Protect Ya Neck' and a rushed rendering of some of the astonishing new tracks. What's so frustrating is just how much excitement they manage to generate tonight merely by dint of their presence. Although they have the biggest personalities to play with and the deepest superstar kudos to bask in, they can't complete the full-on blast with a sound or show worthy of them.

Nearly God of the whole night is Osirus, who stops the music with a petulant squawk to tell the crowd of CIA assassination plots, the bugging devices placed in our brains by gynaecologists and a whole drunken mess of absurdist doggerel that's by turns hilarious, disturbing and strangely moving. But it's gonna take more than this to win over next month's real fans (tonight was a last-minute industry showcase gig), the fans who will demand more than this half-cocked laziness. If the Wu can't come correct, we might have to get used to the idea that the most important band on earth suck live. A damn shame.


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