Everybody calls Judge Victor Valdivia Ol' Dirty Bastard, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Wu-Tang Clan.
"Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin' ta f' wit!"
It would be understandable for hip-hop fans to approach Wu-Tang Clan: Live at Montreux 2007 with some trepidation. There's almost nothing more painful, after all, than watching former titans past their prime, and for hardcore hip-hop fans, there are few titans more revered than the Wu-Tang Clan. When Wu-Tang released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers in 1993, they quickly became New York City's most creative and charismatic underground hip-hop group. While their record sales never matched those of slicker and more radio-friendly artists like Jay-Z, they commanded instant street credibility and became arguably the most respected and influential east coast hip-hop group of the '90s, no small achievement in a decade ruled by Dr. Dre and his L.A.-based Death Row Records.
By 2007, however, they were not exactly at the peak of their powers. Though several members, most notably Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and the RZA, had enjoyed some solo success, the group itself had hit its commercial peak ten years earlier, with Wu-Tang Forever, which was only their second album. Subsequent releases had performed disappointingly, and Wu-Tang's place in hip-hop had been taken by a new breed of diverse artists and producers like Kanye West, Mos Def, and El-P. It also didn't help that by that point Wu-Tang had acquired a reputation as an unreliable live act, blowing off some performances and giving others that were sloppy and disorganized. Finally, Wu-Tang was hit hard with the 2004 drug-related death of their mascot and comedian Ol' Dirty Bastard. Though he wasn't the group's creative linchpin (the RZA, who put Wu-Tang together and produced all of their related recordings, holds that title), he was for many Wu-Tang's heart and soul, and his death signified the end of an era in hip-hop.
Given such tribulations, it would be easy for many to brush off this performance. That would be a mistake. For one night, the Wu-Tang Clan actually pulled together, delivering one of the best live performances of its career and making this DVD an example of how great live hip-hop can be.
The Wu-Tang Clan was filmed July 18, 2007, as they performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The group members include the RZA, Method Man, the GZA, Raekwon the Chef, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, U-God, and Inspectah Deck, joined by Cappadonna, Streetlife and DJ Mathematics. Here is the setlist:
"Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin' Ta F'Wit"
The setlist is drawn from all aspects of the group's career, including various solo hits for individual members. It's possible to quibble with the song selection (why Ghostface Killah's "Fish" but not his superior "Daytona 500"?) but for the most part, all of Wu-Tang's most important songs, solo and group, are represented. Each member gets a showcase to shine, but there are also several group performances, such as "Protect Ya Neck" and "Gravel Pit." On those, Wu-Tang's members trade rhymes and verses with energy, and even though there are a few rough bits here and there, Wu-Tang is generally sharper and more precise than they were in the past. Method Man, as the group's most charismatic member and biggest solo star, clearly stands out (and even does one rhyme while standing on his fans' outstretched hands), but Raekwon the Chef gets some great moments as well, both on his songs (like "Ice Cream") and on the group's efforts. The performances of "What the Blood Clot," "Tearz" (which serves as a showcase for the RZA), and "Triumph" are definitive, surpassing even the album versions. Interestingly, unlike a lot of concerts, especially rap concerts, the show actually builds in energy as it progresses, so that by the time of "Gravel Pit," Wu-Tang is actually hitting its peak.
There are a few missteps. In order to squeeze all 32 songs into the concert's 82 minutes (not 95, as erroneously printed on the DVD packaging), several songs are chopped into medleys, as happens with many rap concerts. Thus, fans will only get to see one verse each of songs like "Uzi," "One Blood Under W," and "Do U Really (Click Click)". This is frustrating, since just as each song is gaining momentum, a new one interrupts it. Also, the tribute to ODB, in which group members exhort the audience to sing the lyrics to his hits "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Brooklyn Zoo," doesn't really work. It's great that Wu-Tang still pays tribute to his memory, but unless you're actually in the crowd, this is the least entertaining way to do it. None of these flaws are fatal, but the concert is so good that they make one wish it could be even better.
Technically, the 16:9 anamorphic transfer and 5.1 mixes (both Dolby and DTS) are pristine, and show off the music to advantage, which is another plus, as too many rap concerts frequently sound muffled or tinny. There are no extras, as with most of the titles in the Live at Montreux series, but this is not a serious failing. Indeed, given the enormous energy and fire of the concert, any flaws are easy to overlook, and this DVD will help many remember just how the Wu-Tang Clan earned their place in hip-hop history to begin with. Wu-Tang Clan: Live at Montreux 2007 is not guilty by any means, and is a must for fans of classic hip-hop.
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