Honestly, how could you ever turn down an opportunity to see Wu-Tang Clan live? Sure, you could’ve gone and yelled along to ‘Mr. Brightside’ over on The Pyramid Stage tonight (June 29) like you’re down at the student disco for the 112th time, or absorbed those block-rockin’ beats with The Chemical Brothers over on The Other Stage. But do either of those acts offer the very rare sight of RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah et al rocking out to a karaoke version of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in the middle of a field in Somerset? No, they do not.
Wu-Tang Clan may have clocked up over a quarter of a century together, but the group continues to exude a visible and vital presence in hip-hop and beyond, from headlining the recent ‘Gods of Rap’ arena tour to being the focus of a new documentary which explored their lasting cultural influence. A headline slot over on the West Holts stage tonight therefore feels likes a worthy platform for their 2019 incarnation, and their set includes a healthy array of classic Wu tracks, solo cuts for the die-hard fans and, brilliantly, an array of karaoke gems.
While “Hello, London!” are the first unfortunate words to be uttered on stage (we won’t name any names), the fact that they then launch into the irresistible ‘Gravel Pit’ ensures that such a faux pas is quickly forgotten. RZA is of course in charge of proceedings, and, as well as clarifying that the Wu do know that they are playing Glastonbury, he ensures that everything runs smoothly whenever he’s front and centre. GZA, meanwhile, is far more energetic than he was at the group’s recent Wembley Arena show, rattling through his ‘Clan In Da Front’ verse and refrain to challenge his fellow rappers to match the energy of his flow.
While Raekwon and Method Man’s absences are unfortunate, Young Dirty Bastard in particular is an electrifying presence. Hours after Slowthai tore up the very same stage, the son of Ol’ Dirty Bastard is belting out his late father’s verses on the likes of ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ and ‘Protect Ya Neck’, gurning into the BBC’s cameras and crowdsurfing — and don’t the rest of the Wu know it, with RZA hailing the “multi-generational” power of hip-hop which is certainly flowing through YDB’s on-stage persona.
One aspect of the current Wu-Tang live show is their unlikely embrace of the cover version: from their phones-aloft take on ‘Come Together’, to the sweet swingalong of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, to the closing blast of Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, it’s Wu Karaoke, and it’s glorious. Some critics may roll their eyes at this tactic when there’s a gigantic back catalogue of group and solo hits to choose from, but tonight, with the celebratory occasion of their West Holts headline slot taken into account, it all fits in as being a perfectly valid part of the fun. Plus, the Wu-Tang Clan covered Nirvana at Glastonbury! What a moment!
Not that they’re going to turn into a full-time covers band anytime soon, of course. As soon as ‘Reunited’ blasts out, you’re throw right back into the archetypal Wu-Tang live show, throwing up the ‘W’ symbol en masse and yelling “Wu-Tang” along with thousands of others who made the right choice of headliner tonight.