"Yo, where my white boys at?" demanded a dead-serious RZA, standing in front of a mixed mob of Wu-Tang fans in the sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom Tuesday night in New York. After a strong showing of pale hands went up in the air, RZA called for the Asian attendees to make some noise as well. "Are my Hispanic people in the house?" continued the Wu-Tang wizard, as he counted his third finger. After cheers ensued also from the audience's Middle Eastern and black descendents, respectively, RZA held up all five fingers of his right hand. "You see this?" he asked, while forming a fist. "This is what Wu-Tang Clan is all about. All y'all niggas come from different races or from different creeds . . . but look how powerful we can be when we're together like this."
The eruption of cheers reached head-ringing levels before the crowd could fully realize the true significance of RZA's proverb. Just behind the frontman were the other microphone-clenching Wu-Tang members, strutting around and serving as the camouflaged foreground of a crowded stage, the outskirts of which were populated by close-range onlookers. The Clan's performance up to this point was dominated solely by the fresh Wu bangers like "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)," "Chamber Music," and "Careful (Click, Click)" -- all from their third and newest album, The W. As thousands of towering fists empowered the atmosphere, reggae icon Junior Reid swaggered smoothly onto the stage and toasted the sound system, joining forces with Wu-Tang's Masta Killa and GZA to deliver his updated classic, "One Blood," as the other Wu brethren cavorted along with them. But it's shortly after this number that RZA's unifying speech came to light.
"I think they're ready for some old shit," said a leather-clad Method Man, facing the crowd alongside Raekwon and U-God. The exclamatory response assured the crowd that it was time to bring it back to where it all started -- back to a time when you could find the entire Wu-Tang Clan on stage together at once; a time when the whole crew could form like Voltron at the drop of a beat; a time when Ol' Dirty Bastard wasn't AWOL. When the luring piano licks of the classic ODB single "Shimmy Shimmy Yaw" tingled the spines of a readily frenzied multitude, a baggy-outfitted man wearing a fluffy orange coat emerged from the background of on-stage spectators and began dropping the infectious hook, "Oh baby, I like it raw." It took but one moment for the entire crowd to realize that the gritty voice belonged to none other than Ol' Dirty Bastard; therefore, it took no time at all for the foundation to shake relentlessly.
Unfortunately, it could only last so long. After spitting only one verse, the music stopped and Ol' Dirty Bastard was ready to flee the scene of the crime, but not before pardoning himself.
"I can't stay up here much longer, y'all . . . you know they had ODB on lock-down," he said, his voice basically drowning from the crowd's hysterical feedback during his dialogue. "The whole fuckin' world was after me. But I'm survivin', y'know what I'm sayin'? Dirt Dog had to come through . . . y'know what I'm sayin'? Just like a fly on your window pane, I'm here lookin' right at you. The cops is after me, so I gotta get outta here."
Before ODB could exit the stage, RZA stopped him and said to the crowd, "Do y'all understand that this is the first time in three years that you see the whole Wu-Tang Clan on stage together at one time? This is a special moment right now." This brief, yet thoroughly cherished, moment was simultaneously a combustion of emotion and a jones for more -- for a hanging instant one couldn't tell whether it was harder for the audience to hear the group's words or to keep their cool. The only thing the Wu-Tang Clan could do was try and maintain the momentum after their fugitive friend stepped away from the cheers. The best way to go about it was clearly to drop old-school jewels from the PA; they wasted no time in doing so. GZA's "Liquid Swords" and Raekwon's "Ice Cream" kept heads bopping and bodies moving, but when Redman, who's also a collaborator on The W, stepped into the foreground to bounce with his moonlighting partner-in-rhyme Method Man for their smash hit "Da Rockwilder", the energy was again at its max.
By this time, all the complications and drama of getting into the show were forgotten (long lines, metal detectors, bag-searching security guards, a forty-five-minute delay before the show). And the last two songs, "Can It Be All So Simple?" from the Wu's first album and Ghostface Killah's "Cherchez La Ghost" certified that it was all worth it. To end it off right, it was time for one more of RZA's words of wisdom to end the night. "The Wu is back in this muthafucka," he said, amidst a wall of noise. "Fuck the charts, fuck the album sales, y'know what I mean? We'll still punch a nigga right in the face." This time, the significance of his word was understood instantly. Although the Wu-Tang Clan's performance was less than an hour, it was enough time for every last one of them to unite and pack one powerful punch.